Two facilities share why pickleball is a great programming offering at health clubs and why you should add it to yours.
Although pickleball has been around since 1965, it has gained popularity in recent years — especially in younger generations. With this uptick in popularity, it could be a great addition to your program list.
According to Janet Warner, the executive director of fitness services at The Alaska Club with 14 locations statewide, there are several features that have led to the popularity of the game including:
- It’s accessible to a wide variety of physical abilities.
- It promotes community and delivers a social aspect while providing a movement-based activity.
- It allows for people who are beginners to see rapid improvement.
“Pickleball is popular in our clubs,” said Warner. “I often see members go from a game of racquetball to the pickleball courts, or I see the pickleball players warming up on cardio machines before. We know our members experience a stronger value in their membership when they are using two or more areas of the club. Pickleball gives members added benefit to their membership and gets them coming into the club more.”
Mike May, the director of racquet sports for The Houstonian Club in Houston, Texas, agreed pickleball has grown in popularity in recent years due to the ease of the sport and the social aspect. He said Baby Boomers in particular are the driving force in the sport’s growth, especially in Florida, Arizona and Colorado.
“The word of mouth in these areas has spread around the country and helped the sport grow quickly,” explained May. “The main reason it has grown is the infrastructure of the sport is very easy to install with painting or taping a few lines and adding a net, which runs $130 to $250.”
Warner echoed the minimal startup costs — nets, paddles, balls and taping of the floor — is what makes pickleball an attractive program for health clubs and gyms.
“These are minimal but definitely needed,” said Warner. “I strongly recommend having a storage area that is easy to access and organize your equipment. This will prolong equipment life, minimize frustration of set up and tear down, and show the pickleball players the club values the program. Most members will purchase their own paddles and balls. However, a key to building the program and one of the fun features of pickleball is that it’s easy to get started playing, so be sure to have paddles and balls available for members to use.”
While pickleball may seem like an easy program to start, there are things you need to look out for as an operator.
At The Houstonian Club, May has dealt with issues between tennis players and pickleball players. “The tennis players feel violated their space is being crowded and making reserving courts more difficult, and the pickleball players feel they are second in line and can’t get courts whenever they desire,” he said. “The issue is the same for both tennis and pickleball players, but the perception of the problem is different.”
To ease the frustrations, May recommends dedicating some space to stand alone pickleball courts in order to manage traffic and dedicated staff for solely pickleball. “Be sure to find a good professional who can run the program,” he said. “Most tennis professionals are already busy running programs. Having one person dedicated to the program will help it thrive.”
While it comes with challenges — just like any other program — it will also attract new members to your facility and keep them coming back time and time again.
“Pickleball players are fun, respectful of their space and equipment, and raving fans of the sport,” said Warner. “They can also be raving fans of your club if you support their new addiction of pickleball and stay connected to this community within your club.”
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