We think most everyone can see that average age of winning pickleball tournament players is dropping. Personally, with both of us turning 70 this year, this change feels like a bit of a mixed blessing. We’ve devoted a lot of time to trying to become competitive players but it is today harder and harder for either of us to place in skill-level tournaments. In fact the only saving grace we see here is the growing trend towards age/skill tournaments, which combine age groups with different skill-levels within each, so we geezer-jocks can continue to compete into our doddering old age. Again selfishly, we hope this format becomes even more popular in the future. But it doesn’t mean that IS pickleball’s future.
Fortunately we are not only “in it to win it”, but are also very invested in helping pickleball to grow – (in fact, we can hope you may have already noticed that!). And our belief is that for ANY sport, to grow rapidly it must be green – not so much in the sense of improving conservation efforts but more in the sense that it must be “owned” at every level by the agile and spry fast-learners, by the folks under 40 at least, but more likely under 30 or even under 20 – by the young.
Thankfully for the continued health and growth of our sport, (if not for the soothing of our fragile elder egos) this greening is already happening. Youngsters everywhere are finding the sport, sometimes in school P.E. units, sometimes through neighbors who have a funky court set up in their driveway (like us – see picture below!), sometimes through their parents who have been “exposed” and are simply helping their kids enjoy a fun and easy-to-learn sport they can do as a family, sometimes because the family itself is a “tennis family” changing focus a little – many reasons contribute.
And the results are pretty conclusive – the kids “get it” quickly and before you can say “third-shot-drop” are playing our game in very short order and at a very high level. Examples abound, but here’s one – we held our biggest tournament of the year in Bend, (Oregon), which besides being itself a pretty good sized-event with well over 300 individuals participating, may very well may hold the record for having the longest name of any tournament anywhere – the Fifth Annual USAPA Pacific Northwest Regional Big Country RV Bend Pickleball Tournament.
The Big Country, being completely a skill-based tournament and open in age to ever USAPA member from age 10 onward, attracts a number of quality sub-teen players. And they can indeed compete. Two days ago, in the hotly-contested 3.0 Men’s division, A.J. had the privilege of refereeing a match in which our friends Kale and Rum won the Bronze medal. Kale and Rum (whose delightful wife, btw, is of course named Coke) had never met before playing together but absolutely rocked, nearly pulling off an upset and advancing beyond Bronze as well. And, to the point, Kale just turned 11!
An anomaly? No. Yesterday, Kale, playing this time in Mixed 3.0 with Kendall, aged 10, took Silver, coming from the consolation round to take the first two games in Gold and only losing narrowly in the 15-point decider.
We loved watching these wonderful young players and so did dozens if not hundreds of others who were rooting their every good shot and point. It was so lop-sided in terms of the support, in fact, that we even felt sympathy for Wendy and Richard the nice folks who held on and won the Gold.
What will we do next about this trend? Support it, of course, in spite of ourselves. Over the next months we will keep you informed, but we are working on a plan to partner closer with our USAPA Ambassador District Team to insure that all kids who want to try this game have a chance to do so. And perhaps even more fun, we have an idea for grooming and coaching the emerging stars of tomorrow – the ones that might look a bit like Kendall and Kale.