With pickleball exploding in growth, there are more and more “newbies” or beginners hitting the courts. But, when heading to the local courts—that may be packed with players—it can be intimidating for a beginner to learn the game or join open play. Heading to the pickleball courts to try the sport without knowing the rules or how to score can make it very difficult for a first-time player to get engrained into the sport. Not to mention, there are varying local rules for organizing play (e.g., do you reserve a court, do you rotate using a paddle system, do 2 players or 4 players rotate, etc.) and there are varying etiquettes for how to join a game. This can lead to some tensions between players or even turning some players away from the game—which is the very opposite of what the sport of pickleball is trying to cultivate, which rather is inclusivity and social connection.
As a result of these challenges, one South Florida housing community—Coral Lakes, which has 6 pickleball courts and has grown from 80 members before the pandemic to over 250 players today—decided to be proactive and make its local pickleball courts a more welcoming place for new players. To achieve this goal, Coral Lakes started a program called “Launchpad.” Launchpad is an event that occurs once per week for new players to have designated court time to learn the rules, get comfortable with hitting a pickleball, and otherwise be encouraged to play pickleball.
More specifically, a team of seven ambassadors from the Coral Lakes Pickleball Club volunteers their time to organize and run the Launchpad events, where two courts would be reserved for two hours at a time. The events are focused as follows:
- Explain the rules and safety tips;
- Do some drills to get the feel for hitting a pickleball and the fundamentals of play;
- Play some shortened games (games to 5 points); and
- Then, teach how to keep score and pickleball strategy.
The response to this program at Coral Lakes has been overwhelmingly positive. More beginners hit the courts because there was a program dedicated to them (in other words, a more inviting invitation to play). These beginners ranged from players with racquet sports backgrounds to players with no athletic backgrounds, from players with paddles and without paddles, and any other player from “A to Z.” These beginners then went through the Launchpad program and were encouraged and guided along to success and independent play—which means less attrition of pickleball players and more people that continue to be avid players in the sport.
Coral Lakes “launched” the Launchpad program about one year ago. Clara Agoada—one of Coral Lakes’ ambassadors, who enthusiastically raised this program with us here at The Pickler—noted that “one of our proudest moments is that two of the courts are filled during morning rotational open play with Launchpad graduates smiling and saying thank you.” Launchpad allowed these beginners to feel more confident in joining open play in their community.
Coral Lakes’ Launchpad program is a wonderful idea to help make pickleball more inclusive and inviting for new players. With the sport of pickleball booming, there are more new players coming into the game and having an avenue to get engrained into the pickleball community is valuable for not only the beginners, but also the more advanced players (e.g., so everyone understands the rules and etiquette on the court, etc.). Plus, one of the best attributes of pickleball is the social component. So, having an avenue to bring more people into the community in a positive way only elevates that social experience.
As they say, “the more, the merrier…”—and this holds true in the pickleball community, too.