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Why Pickleball is Kicking Your Ass

This article was created as a resource for club promoters who are trying to enlist the assistance of their members in the task of attracting new members. All of the articles in this series offer suggestions to club members regarding how they can help to attract new members. Club promoters are encouraged to link to it if they wish to provide suggestions to their members.

Why Pickleball is Kicking Your Ass

This is a brief note to tennis club promoters who are wondering where all of their members are going. We used strong language in the title to get your attention. We hope this note will act as a wakeup call.

Nobody is talking about it.

Nobody’s talking about it because only a few people are aware of it, but the truth is that the growth of pickleball is slowly killing seasonal tennis in Canada.

For most the past 20 years, seasonal tennis clubs have relied on grey-haired members to fill out their memberships and serve as the financial bedrock upon which everything else is built. Take these members away and the collapse of many Canadian tennis clubs — especially seasonal clubs — will certainly be at hand.

Well, that time has come. In the past three years, clubs across Canada have been watching their memberships dip to all time lows thanks to an exodus of the greys. Seniors are switching from tennis to pickleball because it’s easier, it’s more social and there are more people to play with.

As a sport, tennis is professionalized. Every club has a pro and that pro sees his or her primary responsibility as preserving his or her turf. Pickleball, by contrast is run by volunteers whose livelihoods are not tied to membership sales or revenue from private lessons. They have a genuine enthusiasm for their game and are on a quasi-religious mission to share it.

Pickleball clubs lead the way in integrating new players. In the vast majority of pickleball clubs, everybody plays with everybody. In fact, beginners often can’t wait to go back to pickleball because they feel so popular and so wanted. Compare that to tennis clubs where the number one complaint from new members, especially beginners, is that they have nobody to play with.

Every tennis club should follow the pickleball model. They should have a group of volunteers who help organize the beginners and get them playing immediately. The clubs should take a lesson from pickleball organizers and learn to dumb the game down so that it is fun for beginners and immediately easy to play.

Rather than following the advice of outspoken 4.0 players and stressing how hard tennis is, how technical it is and how essential it is for beginners to sign up for weeks of lessons with the club pro before they are good enough to play, club organizers should adopt the Tennis Express model and just get beginners playing.

Later, if they want to improve, the beginners can choose take some lessons. But first, get them playing. Connect them with other beginners and make sure that every beginner session is FUN.

Or, if making tennis fun for beginners seems like too much trouble, you can follow an easier path. Just lock the gates, turn off the lights and head over to the pickleball courts where you are likely to find most of your former members anyway.