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In The Middle with Maren Morris
Pickleball has reached mega-star status. Film and television icons, music artists, professional football, hockey, baseball and basketball legends, and billionaire power couples have fallen in love with the sport.
Most recently, country pop artist Maren Morris has jumped on the pickleball train, making the sport a part of her team’s daily routine while they are on tour throughout the U.S.
Morris, 32, and German DJ-producer Zedd’s 2018 collaboration “The Middle” is a six-time platinum smash hit. In August, the duo released a new single titled “Make You Say.” Morris has a collection of music awards and accolades, including Female Artist of the Year, Song of the Year for her triple-platinum, Grammy-nominated hit “The Bones,” Best Country Solo and Best Country Song for “My Church” and many more. Morris’ third album “Humble Quest” released in March.
Recently, Pickleball Magazine caught up with her to talk about her love for the sport. We learned of Morris’ participation in June when she tweeted that the tour’s pickleball court was set up in a parking lot next to the tour bus.
“We played a couple of games before it was time to go do our show,” she recalls. “Even though in the photos I look like I’m dominating, I actually lost that game. I absolutely love pickleball, and it’s such a fun story as to how we were able to include the sport in our national tour this summer.
“I was adamant about pickleball becoming a trend for my team while we were out on tour. I went on Amazon and bought a ton of equipment so we could set up a travel court at each venue throughout the duration of our tour! It’s funny, I don’t think I’ve ever played on a real pickleball court,” Morris laughed. “It would be so nice to get to play on a real court once the tour is over!”
And just like that, the great sport of pickleball caught on with Texas-born Morris and her team. The first travel court they created was at a tour stop in Raleigh, North Carolina. “Since I was still getting to know the crew members who were new to my team, pickleball was a great way to get the crew together and bond over a game that is entertaining and social in nature,” she says. “It was a great way to get to know each other!
“It’s just fun to walk past after a few hours and see the crew playing and they’ve picked up their own game. It makes me so happy it’s caught on and maybe they’ll go home and play during the week when they’re off the road.”
Morris, who has a 2-year-old son with musician husband Ryan Hurd, admits that at first she had no idea how to play. But she googled the basics and got some games going. At the beginning, it was mainly the band members who played. Since the crew is often busy setting up and tearing down the stage between cities, they join the fun once they get a break or their job is complete.
“My husband hasn’t played yet, but I know he’d pick it up so quickly,” Morris says. “I picked up tennis during the pandemic, which then bloomed into pickleball. I play tennis with Ryan often and I’m sure he would love pickleball.”
With pickleball’s similarities to tennis, Morris was surprised by how different the two sports actually are. “I thought it would be more intuitive, similar to tennis,” she explains. “But the paddles are so big. You have to hit the balls really hard because they’re full of air. It takes a second to get your swing.”
Morris even designed custom paddles for her team: “A few weeks before the tour, we found a website that allows you to upload your own artwork to create custom paddles! We were able to upload our album artwork onto a paddle for our band and crew. The paddles arrived before the tour started and were great quality—and it was awesome they matched the rest of the tour’s branding!”
Will there be an official tour paddle available to the public? “While we don’t have plans to add our pickleball paddles to our merch shop yet,” she says, “that is definitely something we will consider in the future!”
Since her tour has taken her across the U.S., Morris has had the opportunity to play pickleball at some premier destinations. “Gilford, New Hampshire, was a spectacular area to set up a court backstage. Even without a pickleball setup it’s a magical backstage venue,” she says. “It sits right on the lake. When you travel to these incredible venues you can play pickleball anywhere! It’s such a dream.”
She adds, “I can see why the game has grown so quickly, especially these coastal regions where you have beautiful courts to play on. Some of the tennis courts are converting to pickleball, which makes it that much easier to pick up the sport!
“Pickleball is extremely easy to pick up. So, you don’t feel daunted about playing a new sport. You can learn at any age, and comfortably. It’s also highly addictive—you can work up a sweat or just chill and play at the net. You can play doubles or singles. The time flies by because you’re so in the zone.”
To follow Maren Morris on tour, visit marenmorris.com where you can purchase tickets for a city near you!
NFL Legend Takes on Ownership Role in Major League Pickleball
For 20 years, Drew Brees flung the pigskin around NFL stadiums, amassing nearly 46 miles. This future Hall of Famer holds so many pro football records that the list would stretch the length of a downfield pass to one of his, if not his favorite, New Orleans Saints wide receivers, Marques Colston.
But, to toss you a few of his most impressive accomplishments, here they are: 80,358 total passing yards—Brees was the first NFL quarterback to throw for more than 80,000 yards, only to be eclipsed by the legendary Tom Brady this past NFL season. Brees passed for 4,000+ yards in 12 consecutive seasons, the longest streak in league history. He was also the first signal-caller with more than 7,000 completions (7,142) and tallied 571 passing touchdowns in his career, with perhaps the one record that may never be broken—54 straight games with at least one TD pass.
For all that Brees has accomplished on the field, finding that competitive outlet to spur those athletic juices off the gridiron may very well now come in the shape of the 20’ x 44’ pickleball court.
Recently, he joined the ownership group of the Mad Drops Pickleball Club of Major League Pickleball, a new upstart league that features 12 teams and has already attracted some of the top names in this ever-popular sport. JW Johnson, knocking on the heels of top-ranked men’s player Ben Johns, plays for the Florida Smash, Irina Tereschenko plays for Team BLQK, Wesley Gabrielson is a member of The Jackrabbits and Simone Jardim, an iconic figure on the women’s side, is on the 5S.
For Brees, MVP of Super Bowl XLIV, life away from football needed a sport where he didn’t have to worry about 300-pound defensive linemen trying to take his head off. “I am an avid pickleball player, fan and student of the game,” says Brees, who started his NFL career with the Chargers in 2001 after a stellar collegiate showing at Purdue. “The opportunity to be a part of the ownership group of the Mad Drops PC is something I’m extremely excited about, and I look forward to helping raise awareness around the incredible players and competitions in Major League Pickleball, helping grow the sport of pickleball and fostering overall fan engagement.”
As pickleball continues to evolve across the sports landscape, Major League Pickleball (MLP) is ratcheting up the game in an innovative and eye-catching experience for players and fans alike. With a team-based, co-ed format and inventive rules that highlight athletes’ and fans’ passion for the game, MLP’s goal is to elevate and grow the sport in everything it does.
“We are thrilled to welcome such a strong group of strategic investors and partners into the MLP family,” says founder Steve Kuhn. “MLP is the preeminent and most exciting brand in all of pickleball. The talented and passionate Mad Drops PC ownership group will further elevate our competition and athletes, which contributes to our goal of growing the game of pickleball into the world’s most exciting spectator sport.”
Aside from Drew Brees, another recognizable name on the MLP ownership front is former pro tennis player James Blake. A winner of 10 singles titles during his 14-year career, and reaching the quarterfinals at the 2005 and 2006 US Opens and 2008 Australian Open, Blake’s world ranking was as high as fourth in the world in 2006. Later, in 2008, he was awarded another honor by the ATP, Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year. Blake also helped Team USA win the Davis Cup in 2007.
“I decided to invest in Major League Pickleball because I see the growth of the sport is incredible. I picked it up and learned it from my mom,” says Blake, who is co-owner of the Lions of MLP. “I see that excitement and I know it’s going to spill over into the pro game and the viewership, and I see the excitement with other owners and other investors. It’s a passion for so many people and I just love the sport and love the people involved with MLP.”
Back in early June, Major League Pickleball unveiled its season-opening event in Austin, Texas. Its second team competition was staged in early August in Newport Beach, California, and boasted the largest purse in pickleball history, $319,000, with the winning team cashing a check for $100,000. Next up on the MLP playing calendar is Columbus, Ohio, Oct. 14-16.
Team matches are comprised of four games (women’s and men’s doubles and two mixed doubles) and a Dreambreaker singles tiebreaker. “Pickleball is the fastest-growing and most accessible sport in America, and MLP has created a uniquely compelling team-based professional league that will continue to drive its growth,” says Zubin Mehta, general manager of Mad Drops Pickleball Club. “We are excited to partner with a terrific group of strategic investors as owners of Mad Drops PC and look forward to supporting MLP’s mission to be the premier provider of pickleball content.”
Another member of the Mad Drops ownership group is Ryan Serhant. You may know him as one of the high-end New York City realtors and a reality TV star on the popular Bravo series “Million Dollar Listing New York” and its spin-off, “Sell it Like Serhant.” Jim Buss, part-owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, has also offered his financial support of the Mad Drops.
Brees adds, “As a longtime professional athlete and competitor myself, I look forward to working with the Mad Drops PC team in our relentless quest to win many championships in the years to come.”
But unquestionably, it is Drew Brees—whose bronze sculpted bust will soon be a full-time resident in the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio—who has further elevated the stature and notoriety of Major League Pickleball.
As pickleball continues its meteoric rise across all demographics, it is the game’s recognition and attraction of world-class athletes like Brees and Blake, and soon other notable figures, that highlights it as a sport that can cater to all levels of fitness and talent. Their journeys are just the beginning of what many consider an eventual stop at a future Olympic Games and beyond.
Inside the Pickleball Boom
The great sport of pickleball has been growing and evolving since its establishment in 1965, when three dads decided to create a backyard game to entertain their children during summer break. And it was a mom who named the game! All the world’s greatest ideas were developed through an entrepreneurial spirit, and this sport is no exception.
Meet just some of the talented and influential female entrepreneurs leading the way in the business of pickleball.
How did you get started in the pickleball space?
Melissa McCurley, Founder of PickleballTournaments.com
In 2014, I was gainfully employed as the director of data and voice infrastructure at American Express. At the time, pickleball found me and I wasn’t looking for a new career. My mom asked me to play in a pickleball tournament because her regular partner was on a cruise. I didn’t really play pickleball but said yes. When I came out to play, one of the women, Jettye Lanius, told me her husband, Bob (who is in the PHOF), developed PickleballTournaments.com. Jettye knew my brother and I worked in IT and asked if we’d be interested in looking at the system. We agreed, and a few weeks later found ourselves in Southern California at the SoCal Classic helping run the tournament that they were hosting on pickleballtournaments.com. We continued to evaluate the software for another three months before we made the decision to purchase the system in that year. The rest, as they say, is history!
Stacie Townsend, Founder of The Pickler
I am a partner at a full-service law firm in Florida. I practice business law, which stems from my legal training and love for business. I fell into law school after my softball career, which ended in 2012 when softball was taken out of the 2012 London Olympics. Quite soon after, my mother introduced me to pickleball. She started playing after retiring from Corporate America and encouraged me to play as a stress-relief activity (particularly since I was a former softball athlete). I was instantly hooked. The Pickler started soon after that because my mother wanted a shirt to play pickleball that didn’t have pickles on it. So, The Pickler was born, and has since evolved to be a pickleball content and media company.
What or who inspired you to start your business?
Blake Renaud, Founder of the PicklePlay app
We were going to build an app for a different sport, but after falling in love with pickleball and seeing how it brings together people of all demographics, ages, and stages—and experiencing a lot of frustration on where we play, who do we play, how do we keep track of who is playing—we knew it was time to shift our entire focus to pickleball.
Hannah Johns, Media & Content Director for the PPA Tour
Now that the PPA has expanded so much, the on-camera work is only a small part of what I do. I run our PR department, direct content and media distribution, organize broadcast and on-air talent, and act as the pro player liaison for our touring pros. Our team members are all bouncing around doing a lot of things, but we enjoy the dynamic responsibilities and ever-evolving landscape in the sport. It keeps us on our toes.
Rachel Simon, Author of “Pickleball for All”
I wrote my first pickleball article for the New York Times in May 2020, after realizing pickleball made for an excellent pandemic activity—since you could social distance easily and it was simple and inexpensive to set up. The article garnered a lot of interest, and I decided to keep writing about the sport’s growth and popularity, which I was honored turned into an opportunity of a lifetime to author a book published by Harper Collins, “Pickleball for All.”
What does it mean to you to be a woman entrepreneur in the pickleball community?
Aubri Steele, Owner and Founder of Civile Apparel
Being a female entrepreneur in this space has been an honor and an incredible experience. The entire pickleball community is so warm and welcoming. In addition, I find that people react very positively to me being a female entrepreneur—many of them offering support or wanting to get involved. It’s truly a humbling experience.
Catherine Baxter, Founder of Nettie Pickleball
The pickleball entrepreneurial community is amazing. As the game grows, it’s definitely a competitive landscape out there, which could lead to infighting and toxicity. But in my experience, other leaders and founders recognize that the pie is big as the game grows. I think the fact that there are so many women founding companies in pickleball has contributed to the collaborative spirit that I have experienced. There are so many great brands and leaders—Varsity Pickleball, The Pickler, Pickleball Magazine, Civile, Recess, Georgie & Lou, just to name a few—and I can’t wait to see what launches next!
Jill Braverman, CEO of DUPR
It means being comfortable that your insides don’t always match your outsides. With that said, being a female entrepreneur in pickleball means waving your contradiction flag high and freely. It means showing the world that life isn’t a mutually exclusive hierarchical system. It means not taking crap from anyone, but doing it graciously with a smile—using a “velvet hammer,” as my mentor Anne Worcester, former CEO of the women’s WTO Tour, is famous for. It’s remembering that it’s hard to be something you’ve never seen, which is why women have a fiduciary duty to young women everywhere to show what it means to be strong and female in sports.
Lori Manzer and Mimi Kuchman, Georgie & Lou
We feel proud to be part of a group that is still small enough that we are all trying to help each other to succeed. We have had some great all-female owned collaborations. Our company is founded and run by an all-female team. We are looking forward to spending more time at tournaments talking to the people who carry our bags and collaborate with Georgie & Lou.
What are you most looking forward to in the next year as you continue to grow your brand within the pickleball community?
Kim Bastien, Head of Partnerships at The Dink
I look forward to growing The Dink and introducing more brands to the pickleball community. I have a personal goal to attend a pro event to meet some of the pro players that we cover on a daily basis. In addition, we are working on a grassroots campaign to add more value to the pickleball locations throughout the U.S. I would say if a location were interested in hearing more, please give me a shout-out.
Lori Bosch and Jodi Wujkowski, Founders of JoJo + Lo
We can’t wait to continue to take our pop-up shop to exciting new pickleball tournament destinations. We are also planning to launch a new jojo+lo collection for kids! We want to do more wholesaling to pickleball stores around the country and potentially sell through a third-party distributor, and possibly Amazon. We are partnering with professional pickleball players and pickleball social media influencers who want to represent our brand and earn commissions from their sales. We want to continue to create and help change the image of pickleball—one graphic tee at a time. Jojo and I are passionate about our fashions and giving the sport of pickleball a makeover, while keeping our promise to our customers: no dancing pickles, no pickleballs with smiley faces and no fluorescent green!
Elise Ivy, Founder of ROKNE
From a ROKNE business perspective, I am most looking forward to our 2023 collaborations. We are elated to expand upon our partnership with Saks 5th Avenue and Verb Technologies, a market livestreaming platform. In addition, I’m eager to announce some new collaborations/partnerships that will continue to prove the point that pickleball is America’s fastest-growing sport and not stopping any time soon.
From a player perspective, I am most looking forward to witnessing the positive impact that pickleball has on its communities at the local level. It’s exciting to see entire families out on the courts bonding over a sport so many of us have fallen in love with.
Laura Gainor, Founder of VossbergGainor.com and PickleballintheSun.com
As I’ve been fortunate to work in marketing throughout my career, this game is truly unique in the opportunities it will bring to brands and professionals targeting the ever-growing audience demographics. Pickleball in the Sun is a huge passion of mine that will continue to evolve as I’m excited to have the opportunity to continue to collaborate with other entrepreneurs with the same mindset to help grow the game. The brand speaks to the power that pickleball is helping families see the world, particularly by traveling to various destinations that have dedicated pickleball facilities. By getting families or friends together to share their love for pickleball across the country, the hope is to continue to grow the sport and help players experience new destinations for play and truly make the sport a part of their own lifestyle.
Pickleball Pro Catherine Parenteau Provides her Top 5 Training Tips for Crossover Professional Athletes
On Friday, January 28, top Olympic medalist swimmer, Michael Phelps, joined the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals former football wide receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, in a series of exhibition games playing pickleball against some of the top pros in the game, at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa for the Carvana Desert Ridge Open, the first stop of the 2022 Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) Tour.
Fitzgerald quickly made himself comfortable in front of a sold-out spectator crowd on championship court, keeping up with the seasoned pickleball pros and winning some impressive points that had the crowd fired up.
Phelps walked onto the court as fans were excited with anticipation to see how his Olympic strength would translate onto the pickleball court. He looked to be having a great time, but the pro teammates quickly stepped in to teach him the rules of the game and try to get him up to the kitchen.
This isn’t new to hear of a professional athlete to pick up a pickleball paddle to see how their skills translate on the court of America’s fastest growing sport. I caught up with the top-rated pickleball pro, Catherine Parenteau, who got the chance to play on Fitzgerald’s team against Lucy Kovalova and Phelps, to get her top 5 training tips on how professional athletes can get started and work their way to calling themselves a multi-sport professional athlete.
1. The Rules
• Remember the double bounce rule, serve and return must always bounce
• Remember the kitchen rules, you cannot make contact with the ball from inside the kitchen or on the kitchen line
• Remember to “serve and stay”, “return and run forward”
2. Speed & Agility
• Try to practice footwork exercises that enhance your ability to do quick lateral movements, this is key on a pickleball court
• At the kitchen line your legs do a lot of the work as you are dinking, strength in your hamstrings, quads, and calf muscles is key
4. Working as a team
• Communication is key in pickleball, you want to make sure you are on the same page as your partner when it comes to movement on the court and the game plan
5. Drilling vs. playtime
• Pro athletes know this already, but drilling is how you get better faster. You will get better just playing points, but the process is much slower. Repetition is key!
Both Phelps and Fitzgerald have pickleball courts at their homes, so we look forward to seeing how they continue to improve their skills and see them competing at a future pickleball tournament.
For other pickleball training tips and to follow Parenteau’s tournament schedule, follow @CatherineParenteau.pb on Instagram and CatherineParenteau.com.
Laura Vossberg Gainor is the founder of @VossbergGainor, a pickleball marketing agency working with some of the nation’s leading pickleball brands. In addition, she is the founder of @PickleballintheSun, your source for the best pickleball destinations and experiences.
Drive Up Your Metabolism in and out of the Kitchen
Oh, metabolism. We dink that term around almost as much as Anna Leigh Waters wins, but what is metabolism, really? Can we blame “slow” metabolism on weight gain? If so, how can we drive it up to burn more calories?
The truth is scientists still have a lot to learn about metabolism. It seems to be as unique to individuals as their pickleball serve. Here’s some general information about what we do know, and a few tips that may keep yours at its best.
What is Metabolism? Simply put, metabolism is the process of converting the food we eat into energy. Through a series of complex chemical reactions, humans can metabolize energy from carbohydrates, protein, fat, and alcohol. If we take in too many calories, our bodies store them as fat. If we don’t get enough calories, we break down our own stored fat or muscle tissue to meet energy needs.
Our bodies burn energy, even while we’re resting; 24 hours a day, our hearts pump, our lungs breathe, and our cells repair themselves. The energy we use during these basic survival functions is called resting energy expenditure (REE) or basal metabolic rate (BMR). Beyond BMR, the energy we use is more individualized depending on the physical activities we choose. For example, an hour of tournament singles will expend more energy than an hour of dinking drills.
What is “Slow” or “Fast” Metabolism? Some people burn more calories during rest than others, which is sometimes called “fast” or “high” metabolism. Some factors that might cause someone’s metabolism to be higher include: • Genetics – Certain genetics predispose people to burn more or fewer calories. • Size – Larger people have higher energy needs. • Muscle mass and body composition – Muscle cells require more energy than fat cells. • Gender – Men tend to have a higher muscle mass and lower body fat than women, causing them to burn more calories at rest.
We used to think our metabolic rate slowly declined as we got older. A large study in 2021 revealed that metabolic rates remain steady from about age 20 through age 60, and then begin to slow. What, then, might be causing unwanted weight gain as we get older, and how can we boost our metabolism?
Boosting BMR out of the Kitchen While genetics do play a role in metabolic rates and body type, the ball is in your court when it comes to lifestyle choices. With the exercise we get playing pickleball, we’re all on the right track. But there may be even more you can do to boost your metabolism and your game.
• Weightlifting or Resistance Training: Muscle tissue cells require a lot of energy to function and stay healthy, even during rest. Consider adding resistance exercises to your workouts that build large muscle groups. For example, squats build your quadriceps, glutes, and calf muscles, all of which will help you get low at the net.
• High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): HIIT workouts involve short bursts of intense exercise followed by low-intensity exercise, repeating this pattern several times. Several studies have linked HIIT with burning energy long after the workout is complete.
• Manage Stress: Too much of the stress hormone, cortisol, may influence weight gain and cause disruptions in metabolism. You can help manage stress with simple things like deep breathing, and with enjoyable activities like pickleball.
• Rest Well: Having poor sleep habits has been linked to negative effects on metabolism. Most people need 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
Boosting BMR in the Kitchen Some foods and eating habits have been linked to faster BMR. While they may only make small differences in calorie burning, over time these differences can add up to pounds. • Drink coffee: Scientists have noticed links between coffee drinkers and slightly lower obesity rates. They suspect it may be related to caffeine’s metabolism-boosting effects.
• Add ice to your water bottle: On its own, drinking plain water can increase your metabolic rate, but adding ice to your water may raise it even more.
• Turn up the heat: Some studies show that eating capsaicin, the component in chili peppers that makes them spicy-hot, may help boost metabolism. Most studies involved capsaicin supplements, not the peppers themselves.
• Eat during the day: Some research shows that our metabolic health is at its best when we follow a normal circadian rhythm, eating during the daylight hours and avoiding late-night calories.
While we can’t fight genetics or time, we can control some things when it comes to our metabolic rate. By following these metabolism-boosting tips, you can help keep yourself lean and court-ready for years to come!
Behind the Scenes with Pro Zane Navratil
Hometown: Racine, Wisconsin
Current Residence: Brookfield, Wisconsin
Marital Status: Single
Profession: Pickleball playing and teaching professional as of
July 2020, formerly an auditor/CPA for Deloitte
Pickleball Ranking: WPR #2 in the world
Favorite Performance: The first pro title at the APP Punta Gorda Open in
January 2021 and the APP Chicago Open Men’s
Doubles with Altaf Merchant
What is your greatest asset? My ability to remove my ego to see objectively what is going on in a match. My CPA training gives me an opportunity to look at the game in an accountability way, by the numbers, percentage pickleball. There is risk, reward, and return on investment.
You are known for your chainsaw serve. What was your inspiration and how did you develop that serve? My friend John Cincola and I were hitting topspin groundstrokes. The spin on the ball given to you has an impact on what you can return. We experimented on spinning the toss and found it to be effective. There are three ways to add spin off the toss. The first is off the paddle; this was the original chainsaw. The second is off the paddle hand, holding the paddle in the right hand and the ball in the right hand. The third is spinning the ball with the non-paddle hand.
What would you like to see happen in pickleball? Pickleball is different from tennis. I would like to see people go nuts whenever they want to during a point, not just applaud at the end of a point. I would like it to be more like basketball and football, more fan involvement. The Big 12 Conference has the best tennis attendance because they encourage fan participation. I would like to see that in pickleball.
What is your sports background? I played high school tennis and college tennis at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater.
What person was the most influential in your life? My high school tennis coach, Harold Swanson, taught me to learn things myself. He never gave me the answers. He taught me how to learn the game.
Where does your name come from? My parents just liked the name Zane. My father’s last name is Czech, and my mother is from India.
What three famous people would you invite to dinner? Joe Rogan, Novak Djokovic, and Elon Musk.
What is your favorite national park? Zion. Angel’s Landing was the coolest hike.
Who is your favorite celebrity? Joe Rogan. I love to listen to his podcast.
What book influenced you the most? “The Inner Game of Tennis” by W. Timothy Gallwey.
In what period of history would you choose to live? I would choose to live 10 years ago, 10 years younger so that I could be better at pickleball in the present. In 2005, there was less social media and phones; there was more interaction and I like that.
What kind of music do you listen to? Classical—Mozart, Bach, and Tchaikovsky.
What three items would you take to a deserted island? A smartphone, pickleball equipment, and Legos.
If you could send a message in a bottle to your younger self, what would it say? “Fear regret not failure.” Failure is a stepping-stone to success. You learn more from your losses than from your wins.
New Tournament Series Focuses on Next Generation of Pickleball Players
Buoyed by a new tournament series that is focused on a younger age bracket, the next generation of pickleball players is shattering the myth that pickleball is a seniors-only sport.
The tournament series, which the Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP) launched in 2021, is the first of its kind. It is primarily focused on developing champion pickleball players in the 16-23 age range. Aptly named the APP Next Gen Series, the tournament’s mission is to create a platform for America’s top young pickleball players to compete and receive coaching from senior professionals.
“The mission for APP Next Gen is to develop America’s next champions,” said Ken Herrmann, CEO and creative founder of the series. “This is done not only through match play, but by educating both the player and parents about the road their child is taking if considering a career in professional pickleball.”
The APP Tour is the Official Pro Partner Tour of USA Pickleball and has been endorsed by both the Senior Pro and Super Senior Pro councils. Herrmann said he launched the APP Tour in June of 2019 after he spent time developing a vision for all players, ranging from amateur to professional.
Part of that vision was focusing on young players. “This current generation of players is the future of the sport,” Herrmann explained. “If we are able to get this sport into the Olympics, then it is this group of players who will be wearing those Olympic jackets walking into the stadium. Next Gen is not only an inspiration for those players currently here in America, but also for the thousands of international prodigies who have grown to love the game.”
Next Gen has partnered with Chicken N Pickle restaurant/ entertainment centers for the entire series. Each stop on the tour is a three-day tournament held at Chicken N Pickle locations in Oklahoma, Kansas, or Texas.
A tournament held Nov. 19-21, 2021, in San Antonio welcomed 48 players competing for $15,000 in total prize money, with equal prize money for the men’s and women’s divisions. The series also pays out the top five players for each division, based on the cumulative standings for singles, doubles, and mixed doubles events.
As part of the Next Gen Series, players receive mentoring from senior players, which continues after the tournament. This mentoring program prepares young adults to represent the United States in future international and APP Tour professional competitions.
John Sperling and Julie Johnson, two of the highest-ranked seniors in the sport, were the first two senior pro mentors, said Herrmann. Mentors provide seminars on topics like training, media interviews, creating schedules that balance family and tournament time, the mental aspects of the game, off-court training, nutrition, and fitness programs to improve quickness and skill sets. Following the tournament, the senior pro mentors also make themselves available for players who might need extra help planning tournament schedules, discussing sponsorships, or “just being a sounding board for the player and family,” Herrmann added.
Herrmann added. “From tournament play, to on-court drilling and then seminars with the senior pro mentoring program, each player left with guidance and direction to improve their games,” he continued. “The senior pros provide an educational element that is not being done anywhere in the sport and is unique to the Next Gen Series.”
Players must have a USA Pickleball Tournament Player Rating (UTPR) of 4.0 to compete in the Next Gen Series. A select number of wildcards are available for those under the age of 16 who meet the UTPR criteria. A committee formed by the senior mentoring program determines the wildcards, and potential wildcard players are asked to submit an essay explaining why they should be considered for one of the open spots.
Currently, eligible players are placed in a single open division with all ages combined. The tournament is held Friday-Sunday and consists of singles, doubles, and mixed doubles matches. Players are encouraged to play all three days of the tournament, as total cumulative points determine the top two finishers—and who wins
the prize money—at the end of Sunday’s play. The top two finishers also receive paid wildcard entries into a Tier 1 APP Pro Tournament that is assigned to each Next Gen Series event.
There were three different types of players who attended Next Gen San Antonio, each with different objectives, but the same goal,” said Herrmann. “That goal was to leave the event a better player, and I think everyone achieved that. The players who attended had aspirations of either performing well and winning the $15,000 prize purse, having the opportunity to train alongside some of the most talented younger players on the APP tour, or developing friendships that could last a lifetime through pickleball.”
In November’s San Antonio event, former Division I tennis player Yana Grechkina, 23, took home gold in the women’s division. Breakout teen JW Johnson, 19, took the gold in the men’s division.
“Winning Next Gen was pretty special to me,” said Johnson. “It’s one thing to win when you’re the underdog and a young kid, but it’s completely different to win when you’re with a group of your peers. The thing I loved most about it was the whole atmosphere at Chicken N Pickle. It is like a giant party all the time with everything going on, and I thought it was one of the best atmospheres for pickleball.”
Hermann agrees, stating that he was impressed with the crowd size at the tournament, both in person and via the livestream.
“We’re pleased with how engrossed the public was with these young players, by making comments during the livestreamed matches,” he added. “The crowd was filled with excitement and supported the three-day event generously.”
In 2022, the Next Gen Series has tournaments scheduled in Oklahoma City (Feb. 4-6); Wichita, Kansas (March 18-20); and San Antonio (July 8-10). Although the general format will stay the same, with singles, doubles and mixed doubles tournaments, some tweaks may be made for the upcoming tournament in Oklahoma City. For the latest news or to register for the APP Next Gen Series, visit apptour.org.
What Does USA Pickleball Certified Actually Mean?
The mechanics of the process are driven by USA Pickleball's Equipment Evaluation Committee, which was formed in 2016, with the support of National Testing Systems--USA Pickleball's independent third-party lab and testing facility in Baltimore, Maryland.
By Carl Schmits
If you've been involved in the sport of pickleball over the past six years, you have witnessed both growth and evolution rarely seen in any industry. Besides the visibility of new and converted venues, the increase in the number of tournaments including two organized Pro Am tours the recently announced Major League Pickleball team format, and USA Pickleball's new National Championship series leading to the world-class Margaritaville USA Pickleball Nationals Championship event--is simply amazing
Subsequently, this growth has been greatly reflected within the equipment industry as well. We've seen more new paddle introductions and manufacturers in the last 18 months than the previous five years, Including some of the largest brands in sporting goods delivering newly designed paddles and competition balls.
A question often heard is. What does it mean to be USA Pickleball Certified?" In a nutshell, the certification process ensures that paddles and balls are manufactured to specifications that support one of the USA Pickleball board's objectives of maintaining the integrity of the sport. The mechanics of this process are driven by USA Pickleball's Equipment Evaluation Committee (EEC), formed in 2016, with the support of National Testing Systems (NTS)-USA Pickleball's independent third-party lab and testing facility in Baltimore, Maryland.
The EEC is a data-driven group that works closely with the rules committee and the manufacturing community with an objective of ensuring a level playing field for both manufacturers and athletes. Primary areas of concern on paddle performance are spin-inducing friction and power-enhancing attributes with a focus on preventing unfair competitive advantages in a sport that has an extremely wide range of playing types and skill levels. For balls, dimensional consistency and rebound characteristics drive most of the tests.
Over time, our rules, specifications, standards and means of testing have evolved in response to or in anticipation of, innovations in technology, manufacturing/testing processes, and/or policy Interpretation. we’ve learned much in observing the evolution of other racket and paddle sports, and now changes in materials and those sports, thus aiding in our decision-making.
It is an ongoing process to research more representative and comprehensive methodologies of testing for critical performance characteristics using
Industry-standard ASTM test methods to evaluate surface friction, ball rebound, material behavior, etc. Benefits of Implementing these industry-standard protocols include increasing reproducibility by the manufacturers while reducing variation in testing. In 2016, a testing method was put in place to measure the material hardness of tournament balls, with the goal of ensuring consistent play ability and rebound characteristics. As part of our goal to Improve the relevance, accuracy, and consistency of our testing procedures, and as a logical transition from the first phase of testing for those performance characteristics, we implemented an industry-standard ASTM compression test method that is the norm in the sports industry.
Also in 2016, a test was devised to limit extreme friction-inducing characteristics that were a result of surface irregularities common in that period’s paddle.
structural materials and finishing graphics. In addition, articles 2.E.2.a and 2.E.6 were put in place to address applied surfaces and finishes that increased friction. Since then, there has been a significant trend in materials, both in construction material and finishes, that required re-evaluating both the means of testing as well as what the acceptable threshold should be. As a result, the EEC implemented an AST test using coefficient of friction that evaluates that attribute regardless of the surface material or cosmetic finish.
Most recently, new paddle configurations have started to emerge, e.g., "open throat. In response to that, the EEC has developed a test to assess a paddle's overall flexibility to ensure that it falls within an acceptable performance range. In addition to the above advancements in testing. this year the EEC has formally launched a Compliance program to better ensure that paddles and balls continue to be manufactured to original specification throughout their life cycle. This is modeled after similar programs in other racket and paddle sports.
Leadership: Pickleball's Greatest Asset
Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in North America, and probably around the world. It is becoming quite popular in some countries but is still unknown in most. So how do we replicate the tremendous success in some nations to other regions of the world? The answer is: vision, perseverance. resilience and overall leadership.
There are several challenges that we are confronting to expand the sport in Mexico. For starters, the name itself becomes a barrier. The word pickleball is difficult just to pronounce for people whose native language is something other than English. Furthermore, it doesn't have any suggestion of being a racket sport.
That doesn't mean it can't be sold; it just means that we must be very creative. After all, soccer, tennis, baseball, and ping-pong are names with different language origins. Another challenge has to do with the accessibility of the sport
Pickleball has grown tremendously in Canada and the USA because racket sports are highly accessible in public areas. You can find public tennis courts, or basketball courts, in just about any small town or big city. In some countries like ours, however, racket sports are mostly located in private clubs. Therefore, they are perceived as elitist sports.
It is believed that because soccer is the most popular sport in our country, it is highly accessible. I refute that. The results in international competition support my argument. European countries like Germany, France, Italy and Spain have an infrastructure that makes soccer very accessible to everyone. Obviously, there are other factors for their international success, but this is the very bottom layer of their success. Although soccer is played wide in our country, well-designed and built installations are limited for a country of approximately 135 million people.
High demographic growth of our cities for the past 40 years has made the cost of land very expensive. Large areas required for soccer fields inside large cities become very difficult to sustain.
One other challenge we are confronting is the idiosyncrasy of our nation. As I mentioned before. racket sports are perceived as elitist, only played inside private clubs. Soccer success around the world, on the other hand, is based on how it has been positioned since the very beginning as a sport of the people. Male people, I might add. Until very recently, women's soccer and most sports now highly practiced by women did not have the support that they are beginning to have. So, racket sports have remained niche or specialized sports mainly played at private clubs and mostly practiced by a male population.
The incredible thing about pickleball is that it has the ingredients to overcome these and other challenges. It is easy to learn and inexpensive to play. It is fun and it is great exercise. It is highly inclusive. The nature of the rules allows for a wide diversity of population to practice it.
In Mexico we will have a very exciting calendar of events for 2022. We will start the year hosting two APP tournaments in February, one in Guadalajara and the other in Cancun. Come join us to play awesome pickleball, meet new international players, and visit our beautiful country.
Point Length Comparison
Let’s compare pickleball point length and actual play time to tennis. Buckle your seat belt, as the facts are quite stunning! Statistic #1: What is the average length of a point in tennis versus pickleball?
Despite the fact that we remember the extra-long points in both sports, the average point length in tennis is only three shots. That includes the serve and return of serve, making those two shots disproportionately important. How does this tennis point
length compare to pickleball? The average point length in pickleball is three times longer than tennis, at nine ball strikes per point! How is this possible? Two primary reasons: first, the serve is far less dominant in pickleball than tennis; and second, the rules in pickleball encourage touch shots due to the kitchen line rule being an important part of the sport.
Statistic #2: What is the average amount of time per hour that the ball is in play in tennis versus pickleball?
Now let’s take that a step further. Considering the breaks between points, we have analyzed how much time is spent playing versus waiting in both sports. In every hour of tennis, the ball is in play just 11-12 minutes! It may sound crazy, but this is an accurate statistic. How about pickleball? In every hour of pickleball, the ball is in play much longer... a total of 26-28 minutes!
Armed with this information, pickleball players can now discuss the benefits of pickleball over tennis much more clearly than ever before. Pickleball offers more cardiovascular exercise and fitness than tennis. The truth is in the statistics!
SLAP SHOT TO DINK SHOT
NHL legend Kris Draper has been so completely taken by pickleball that he transformed his Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, backyard hockey rink into a pickleball court during the warmer months.
Hoisting the Stanley Cup, perhaps the most revered trophy in all of sports, epitomizes the pinnacle of success in the National Hockey League. And, for Kris Draper, nicknamed “Nailz” for his energizing 20-year career—the majority of which was spent with the Detroit Red Wings during their glory years in Hockeytown—lifting Lord Stanley’s chalice was a lifelong dream whose reality far exceeded his expectations.
“Definitely the greatest feeling as a hockey player that I ever felt,” he says. “I remember in 1997 at Joe Louis Arena, Joe Kocur called my name and handed me the cup and said, ‘Go for a lap.’ I remember grabbing the cup from Joey, raising it over my head, and realizing this is the greatest moment in my hockey career. You dream about this as a kid all the time and when you play in juniors, that’s all you ever think about...the time when you can grab the Stanley Cup and skate around the rink with it. It was an unbelievable feeling.” Draper would realize that feeling three more times while wearing the Red Wings jersey.
Perhaps his finest season on the ice was in 2003-2004 when he scored 24 goals and tallied 40 points, helping Detroit win the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL team with the highest point total during the regular season. Not to be outdone, Draper’s defensive exploits were recognized as well. The West Hill, Ontario, native won the prestigious Frank J. Selke Trophy that same year, given to the sport’s top defensive forward.
The competitive fires that burned so deeply in Draper during his illustrious hockey career have now been transferred to the pickleball court, where even his opponents across the net wonder if he’s envisioning himself back on the ice at Joe Louis Arena. He plays hard, just as he did when he wore the #33 sweater for the Red Wings. Taking up pickleball, however, took some convincing.
“A friend of mine invited me over to his house to play pickleball,” Draper recalls. “At first, after hearing the name, I kind of chuckled and said ‘No thank you.’ Then, after a while, he talked me into it and convinced me it was a sport that I would really enjoy. I went over to his house, and we played for about two to three hours. I was hooked pretty quickly, and since then I try to play pickleball four to five times a week and I have been playing for just over a year. I’m totally into the sport of pickleball now and look forward to taking my game to the next level and beyond.”
So completely taken by the sport, Draper transformed his Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, backyard hockey rink into a pickleball court during the warmer months. “The rink in my backyard is outfitted with boards and a permanent cement floor,” he explains. “All summer long, I [was] playing in my backyard. Early in the summer, I bought a Tru-Shot net and got the lines painted and turned the rink into a full, functioning pickleball court. It was great because the whole family used it too. It was the summer of pickleball! I have also played at public courts in Royal Oak, and during the winter I also play indoors at the Sports Club of West Bloomfield. I can’t get enough of this sport.”
As a hockey player, Draper was often referred to as a “grinder”—a relentless player who never gives up on a puck and continues to skate hard every second of every shift—playing for legendary coach Scotty Bowman. Along with linemates Darren McCarty and Kirk Maltby, they were known as the Grind Line and were an integral part of the Red Wings squad who elevated the stature of the team and were instrumental in winning those four Stanley Cups.
“The Grind Line was something I was so proud to be a part of,” Draper says. “We played a fast and physical style of hockey, and obviously we grinded it out game in and game out. I feel that is similar to the way I want to play in pickleball tournaments. We earned the name on the ice, and I haven’t yet earned a nickname on the pickleball court quite yet. I know my style of play will be a bit like my time on the ice, but of course I can only move around so far on the court—and crashing into the net is a no-no because I have to keep remembering to stay out of the kitchen when I’m not allowed in there.”
With most professional athletes, hand-eye coordination is one of the strongest attributes, and that rings true with Draper. Stickhandling the puck, especially through traffic in the defensive zone, is of paramount importance and many of those same qualities have transferred to his initial play in pickleball.
“I definitely see some similarities between the two sports,” Draper explains. “Playing in the NHL requires great hand-eye coordination and I think that is a skill that has enabled me to play fairly well early on with my pickleball game. One of the aspects of pickleball that I really enjoy is getting into battles at the net when the volleying gets fast, quick, and hard. That’s when my competitive juices really get flowing. When I get in a competitive atmosphere, I really want to win.”
The spirit of competition never leaves the mindset of former professional athletes. It’s part of their DNA, and improving his game on the pickleball court is a top priority for Draper—who played in the NHL until the age of 40, which is an incredible accomplishment in a sport as physically demanding as professional hockey. “Playing in the NHL until the age of 40 is something I am very proud of. I’m also very proud to have played over 1,000 games in the Detroit Red Wings uniform,” he adds. “And a big reason for that was that I was able to stay relatively healthy during my career. I have always had a passion for working out. With that combination, that allowed me to play 20 years in the NHL.”
Draper’s longevity in a Red Wings sweater is in line with the likes of Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom and his good friend Steve Yzerman, now the general manager of the Detroit Red Wings. “To be mentioned in the same sentence as those players is truly an honor,” he says. “I can’t believe, [thinking back to] when I was playing in my early junior days in the Ontario Hockey League, that one day I would be mentioned in the same breath as a Gordie Howe and a Stevie Yzerman. Well, it’s just an overwhelming feeling. One that I will always cherish.”
When not playing pickleball as much as he can, Draper is also the director of amateur scouting for the Detroit Red Wings and gets to work closely with Yzerman. “My role is to travel around the globe and look at top prospects that could be potential draft picks for the Red Wings,” he explains. “I am in charge of running our draft. It is great to have Stevie Y back in Detroit with the passion to make the Red Wings Stanley Cup contenders once again.”
Aside from Draper’s family and job with the Red Wings, his other passion clearly lies within the 20’ x 44’ dimensions of a pickleball court. Not exactly the size of blue line to blue line, but it suits the “grinder” just fine. And, as with any high-achieving athlete, Draper—who plays with the Engage Maverick paddle— is continually working at his game, some aspects of which can be frustrating for the 50-year-old player: “I would say [it’s] when I don’t hit the third shot drop. I know how important that shot is to get myself and my partner to the net, and when I don’t hit a good one, it is aggravating.”
He thrives on challenges and looks forward to the days when he’s playing in tournaments to see where he stacks up against other players. Draper truly enjoys the competitive aspects of the sport, as he has met a lot of great people within the local pickleball community “As of right now, I have really enjoyed playing the game,” he says. “I have had the opportunity to play with outstanding players here in Michigan, but I would like We played a fast and physical style of hockey, and obviously we grinded it out game in and game out. I feel that is similar to the way I want to play in pickleball tournaments.
to try my skills at a tournament in the near future to see where my game is at. I am so looking forward to that challenge. Being a former professional athlete, we hold ourselves to a high standard and I always want to improve my game. I enjoy working on areas of my game that I feel I need to get better at, and I also enjoy watching the top players in the world.”
Challenges are what made Kris Draper a great hockey player, one of Detroit’s favorite sons and a Red Wings legend who’s proud of the Stanley Cup banners he helped to get hung in Joe Louis Arena. Now his focus is on the sport of pickleball, and while his “grinding” style may not play quite as well on the court as it did on the ice, there’s no doubt “Nailz” will find a way to make his game and style of play successful as he moves forward in the sport of pickleball.
Spikeball, Pickleball, and Volleyball Battle it Out in 'Pro vs. Pro' Video Series
What do you get when you have the best players in spikeball, pickleball, and volleyball come together to show off their talents in their respective sports?
A “Pro vs. Pro” video series with top- ranked pickleball players Ben Johns and Kyle Yates playing pickleball and spikeball (a.k.a. roundnet) against Preston Bies, pro roundnet player, and Casey Patterson, pro beach volleyball player.
The video series on Preston Bies’ YouTube channel called “How to Roundnet” all started with Preston taking a break from spikeball to do a 50-day pickleball binge where he trained two hours a day.
Preston, 27, of Santa Barbara, California, got stoked about pickleball and wanted to play against the best. So he did a Google search for “best pickleball player in the world” and found none other than Ben Johns’ name pop up. He figured, why not message Ben on Instagram and ask if he wants to come out to California to do a pro vs. pro video series to play spikeball and pickleball, and to bring a friend with him.
So that’s exactly what happened. Ben called Kyle Yates and asked if he was up for the challenge, so both of them flew to California to learn how to play spikeball and show Preston and Casey how to excel in the game of pickleball. “Ben and I are always up to try something new, so when we are invited to play with the world’s best at anything, of course we’re going to say yes!” says Kyle. “My favorite part about the Pro vs. Pro competition was seeing just how to excel in the game of pickleball.
“Ben and I are always up to try something new, so when we are invited to play with the world’s best at anything, of course we’re going to say yes!” says Kyle. “My favorite part about the Pro vs. Pro competition was seeing just how amazing these other pros are at their respective sports. I was in awe of some of the shots Preston was able to hit in roundnet—and it was pretty fun to show off a bit and feel comfortable on the pickleball court!”
Not only did these incredible athletes excel at each other’s respective sports, they had some fun along the way—including Ben using a slipper as a pickleball paddle to see if he could still win against the spikeball pros in a match. Spoiler alert: Ben won.
“For playing pickleball just three months, Preston is pretty good,” says Ben. When asked if he was going to try to play roundnet again in his free time, he replied, “Free time is a word I don’t use a lot these days! But if I get the chance, I’ll absolutely play again.”
According to Chris Ruder, Founder and CEO of Spikeball, Inc.—with approximately 4 million spikeball units sold—there are about 10-20 million people who have played roundnet.
Another spikeball pro competitor, Chris Hornacek, who recently hit the courts with Tyson Aposotol for an intense singles match, is also a pickleball pro-in-the- making, which proves there are many parallels between the two sports.
“I announced on Instagram that I was playing pickleball and suddenly a ton of spikeball players were sending me direct messages saying, ‘Yeah, I play!’ and telling me where I should travel to play pickleball,” says Chris. “Everyone points you in the right direction on how to improve your game.”
With millions of passionate players for a backyard game that complements pickleball nicely, we look forward to this network of athletes continuing to join us on the courts and work their way to the top of the pro circuit. See you in November at the 2021 Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships!
To view the Pro vs. Pro video by Preston Bies and to see exclusive pictures, visit USAPickleball.org and @USAPickleball on Instagram.