At this point, it’s likely that you’ve seen a statistic about how pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the United States. According to the latest research from the Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP), 48.3 million adult Americans, nearly 19% of the total US adult population, have played pickleball at least once within the last year.
This astronomic growth of the sport has caused a massive unification behind the sport, which has materialized in the form of multiple professional leagues, countless new pickleball facilities being built, and really the establishment of a whole industry dedicated to the sport. However, the biggest takeaway to be had from pickleball’s growth is in the incredible community that’s been fostered around the sport.
The excitement and fun of the game of pickleball, along with the community that has been formed, has allowed the love for the sport to be spread internationally. It’s fantastic to see so many international tournaments and organizations come together to support the game on the world stage.
We had the opportunity to talk with Karen Mitchell, Co-Founder and Director of Pickleball England, an organization dedicated to promoting the growth of pickleball in England by supporting players and clubs at the local, national, and international levels. Their core values include a strong focal point on respect and inclusivity to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to play the sport.
Karen first started playing the game in 2015 after being introduced to the game by some of her neighbors. Soon after, she was hooked on the game and began playing in tournaments with her husband in 2016.
After hearing so many of her peers say that there was a need for a governing body for the sport in the United Kingdom, Mitchell teamed up with fellow pickleball enthusiast Frank Arico to create an association focused on supporting the growth of the game.
“I reached out to Frank and said, “I’m really getting encouraged by the players to do something, but I can’t do it on my own. How do you feel about this?” Frank run his own business, had a financial background, and had already developed some systems that players were enjoying, and so I felt like he was the right person to partner with because his technical experience and my business background seemed like they would work together.”
Pickleball England was then founded and launched to the public on January 3, 2019. Karen mentioned that right away, they wanted to reassure the clubs and player population that their organization would always be dedicated to supporting them. Mitchell and Arico quickly took the stance that the organization would not be for ego or profit, but rather establish a sense of democracy as England’s governing body and allow the game to grow across the country.
Despite the fact that they were encouraged to take on the role of being the governing body of the entirety of the UK, Mitchell explained that Pickleball Scotland was already being created. Because Mitchell and Arico are based out of England, they thought that it would be a net positive to have the UK’s many regions have their own organizational systems before coming together in a national forum.
To further instill the key value of diplomacy amongst the many different pickleball communities throughout England, Pickleball England established the role of regional directors who are responsible for each of the 6 England Regions and 1 Non-England region. All of the regional directors are voted in by members of the organization and are supported by county representatives.
“We’ve probably got an infrastructure of 35-40 people volunteering to help grow pickleball across the country. And then there’s an awful lot of clubs across the country that are also run by volunteers. They’re creating the infrastructure to play, getting people to join them, and there’s about 305 places to play I think now, and there’s somebody leading all of those venues.”
The directors are in place to provide information to prospective players, people starting clubs, and venues looking to add pickleball. They also help to organize leagues and festivals within their given region. They also offer taster sessions to teach players how to play, host festivals, and are able to represent their region at Pickleball England board meetings.
For members interested in helping lead their pickleball communities, Pickleball England offers training courses known as the Pickleball Leaders Certification. These programs encourage an incredible amount of growth for pickleball, as community leaders take the initiative to learn how to accurately and effectively bring prospective players into the game in a way that is engaging and fun.
In 2020, Pickleball England set the ambitious goal of attaining 25,000 members by 2025. While their association currently has about 4,200 members, the astronomical growth of the sport within the last year alone makes me believe that they’ll likely hit this goal even sooner! Since Mitchell first started playing pickleball, she’s seen the pickleball landscape change drastically over the years. She believes that her organization will be a leading force as the sport continues to change nationwide.
“It’s unrecognizable. When I started in 2015, I think that there were probably about 20 clubs that I’m aware of. When we started Pickleball England in 2019, there were about 35 clubs, and now on our club locator, we’ve got about 315 places to play right now. So, it’s growing significantly.”
As the sport grows in England, another big part of keeping pickleball inclusive to all players is with club and event support that can meet the needs of those players. Pickleball England has already shown serious initiative through its additional tournament support of youth and wheelchair events.
Following the success of their first wheelchair event at the 2022 English Nationals, Pickleball England has decided to bring the event back for their upcoming 2023 English Open, England’s premier professional and amateur tournament.
Mitchell attributes the success of these events to the foundation set by pickleball festivals around the nation that prioritize the celebration of the sport’s player base. Bringing together people to enjoy the sport while building social connections has allowed the community to rally around itself during the sport’s rapid growth.
“I think that the best thing that England has are the pickleball festivals around the year. It might be a club-initiated one or a Pickleball England one, that’s where everyone can come together regardless of rating, age and just play recreational pickleball and socialize with people, and they are so much fun.”
As pickleball continues to expand globally, Pickleball England strives to build respectability with other governing bodies by setting an example through their own practices. Mitchell and Arico have had the opportunity to work on the World Pickleball Federation (WPF) and the Unify Pickleball Taskforce (UPTF), respectively, where they connected with other countries in efforts to bring the global community together.
Pickleball England ultimately wants to share all the information they can about the game, at both national and international levels, to allow everyone the chance to learn how to play the game and connect with the pickleball community. It’s clear that these goals set in the organization’s core altruistic values will serve the greater good of helping grow the sport we all love.
For more information about how to get involved with Pickleball England and its upcoming English Open tournament, please visit their website.
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