The following should serve as a guideline for working with city parks and recreation in introducing pickleball within your community.
The process can be slow and tedious as there are many obstacles you will naturally be faced with, below are some: all of which, have a solution.
- Park officials/government entities not familiar with pickleball
- Public tennis courts that do not allow play other than tennis
- The public is not familiar with pickleball
- Concerns about noise issues
- Cost concerns (developing pickleball courts or lines)
- Confusion of added lines on existing courts
In no particular order, I will attempt to answer each of these, although there is a natural start prior to addressing the issues. And with most cases, you will need to understand what, if any concerns there currently are.
First, you need to find advocates to help you. Advocates can be fellow players, city officials, heads of HOA’s, park employees, tennis players, park coordinators…really anyone that you can count on to push forward.
Second, if you can, find those who might strongly oppose pickleball, for whatever reason. Find out what their concerns are, it may be simply that they are not educated in the game (they don’t know how to play or what pickleball is). Mostly, they will be unaccepting to change, which is common as we all love our comfort zone.
What can you do with folks that oppose pickleball, find out why, invite them to play, and show them videos.
The process of conversion…the above is relatively easy, although it does require working with people; it really should focus on listening to the concerns and understanding their point of view.
You should not attempt to address their concerns or become defensive, rather use your ears. You will hear, most likely, ‘pickleball is loud and distracting, people can’t cope with the constant noise’, I would say in response that I understand this is a concern as pickleball can be very enthusiastic and move on. Later you will address the technology that has helped pickleball equipment to be less ‘noisy’.
Addressing the obstacles:
• Park officials/government entities not familiar with pickleball
Here, as in many of the people obstacles, you will find and look for the following types of people: the influencers, the decision-makers, and the ones that are ‘blocks in the road’.
If you want to find and advocate with the influencers, those are the ones that can help you move forward. They will help introduce you to other influencers and advocates. They will also be essential in getting you to the decision-makers.
With your advocates, and this certainly doesn’t come overnight, you will want to understand their concerns in pickleball, even letting them know, there are concerns and talk about them.
Eventually, you will want to work with your influencers in getting the public opinion of pickleball from the general public, establish a focus group and send out surveys.
You will want to find and identify potential places to play, or places that you may convert to dual sport (indoors or outdoors). Be cognitive have been too close to houses or neighborhoods, parking availability, road access, lighting (for night play), and physical condition of the courts. Some of this will alleviate the ‘noise’ factor.
Ultimately you will want to create a plan of action with your influencers to bring to the decision-makers
• Public tennis courts that do not allow play other than tennis
The plan of action above should include how to overcome any ordnances that might be preventing pickleball play. Part of the plan is to get a public consensus regarding any ordnance, should they exist.
We cannot forget we are talking about public places to play. The public’s wishes need to be addressed by park and planning officials. In Phoenix, we have such an ordinance, but we overcame it recently because pickleball players asked, local ambassadors worked with influencers at parks and rec and a survey went out. Over 85% of the respondents said they had no problem sharing court time.
Public opinion, through social media, direct surveys, and focus groups is highly influential, and generally listened to.
The same process can be used in adapting modifications such as going from temporary lines to permanent lines, scheduling, or adding courts to existing programs.
Further, we pointed out how many tennis courts had no one playing, the courts started to crack, got dirty, and the paint started to chip.
We offered that if these were pickleball courts they would see more play time, clean courts, and an inviting area to play.
• The public is not familiar with pickleball
Getting the public involved can follow a variety of paths. The easiest is to introduce pickleball to tennis and racquetball players. The similarities of the game are, in concept, obvious.
My friend, who is a 40-year vet of tennis and a 4.5 caliber player was introduced to pickleball by some tennis friends who also played pickleball. She, in turn, has taught pickleball to other tennis friends. It’s as simple as ‘try it you might like it’. Another saying I hear a lot is that tennis players are one injury away from being pickleball players. I have met many male friends that are former racquet and handball players. It seems the transition to pickleball is that it can be a slower game and easier on the body.
The other avenue for non-racquet/paddle type players is a bit harder in general as any game involving a ball or ‘hitting device’ requires good hand-eye coordination.
Regardless, it’s just a matter of going out and asking people to play, as you most likely know, when there is any kind of sports activity going on people are watching, for pickleball, it’s a matter of stopping playing and asking them to come ‘hit a few’
For communities, parks, and HOA-type areas, you can have a more selective approach by offering to do a few beginner lessons to sort of ease the tension of this strange game.
• Concerns about noise issues
It is my belief that this concern is one that should never be defended, and simply be acknowledged. Right or wrong, good or bad, this is a big one. It faces the perceptions, myths, and realities that the game brings a terrible annoying noise. So what can you do about noise? DO NOT DENY IT EXISTS.
When we in Phoenix were negotiating which of the 32 city parks (that had tennis courts) would be considered for pickleball (dual play) we had a list of criteria in mind: available parking, condition of the courts, lighting, number of courts, and proximity to residential areas. We immediately removed the objection of noise being an issue. We acknowledge it amongst ourselves and let the city know we too were concerned about it…I can tell you that went a long way in acceptance of our final list.
And obviously, USAPA has acknowledged it and equipment manufacturers are developing softer-sounding paddles and balls. Plus, there a sound dampening screens that can be utilized where you have existing courts and do not have choices as to where those courts go.
• Cost concerns (developing pickleball courts or lines)
In dealing with governmental agencies you will find quickly that funds do not exist for the development of park infrastructure, “it’s not in our budget”. Those same agencies certainly do not shy away from free, and the one area you can have the most impact in is through community (pickleball community) support and fundraisers. Many communities are funding and raising money for court development, painting lines and court improvement.
The community of Eau Claire Wisconsin negotiated with the city and raised 30,000 to build several courts recently. The same thing happened in Wickenburg Arizona where they have 6 courts with 6 more due to follow.
• Confusion of added lines on existing courts
This too is a myth, that people get confused by having too many lines, especially in an indoor gymnasium and sometimes outdoor where tennis is being played.
For outdoor, technology has helped in the concept of “shadow lines” which are lines that are faintly painted to downplay any confusion from tennis players.
For indoor, gymnasiums often field multiple sports, there are lines everywhere. Pickleball players deal with it and figure it out on the indoor side, for outdoor courts, we did a survey and found the majority of tennis players would not be bothered by it.
As a result, I believe from experience, that this is a concern of public officials, albeit a small one that can be overcome from the statements above.