Pickleball is often lauded for being an incredibly inclusive sport that holds its community above all else. Regardless of one’s background, just about anyone can pick up a paddle and hit the court.
We’ve seen a diverse spread of pickleball communities of all kinds pop up across the country. From nonprofit organizations like Adaptive Pickleball helping people in wheelchairs and special needs get on the court to other organizations helping build communities on the international level, pickleball is a medium that helps unify people and promote healthy lifestyles.
One such community has been created in the Atlanta and Miami pickleball scenes through Pickleballin’ Lifestyle Club, a business that’s dedicated to developing a happier and healthier community of black and brown women within the world of pickleball. Pickleballin’ was established this year by co-founders Stephanie Allen-Tunsil, SunJa Leon, Lauren N’Namdi, and Aisha Stith, and they’ve already seen great success in building communities through their clinics, tournaments, and events.
We talked with Aisha Stith about how she got started with pickleball, and why she and her co-founders have leaned into pickleball as a platform for building their business.
Aisha first heard of pickleball two or three years ago when taking her kids to a city park known for its tennis courts. She overheard the now notorious sound of pickleball pops on the court and quickly Googled “loud sounding tennis,” and of course, pickleball came up.
“It took me awhile to actually start playing pickleball, since I didn’t really start playing until 2023. It’s just an amazingly inclusive and fun sport, and I’m not an athlete. I don’t have all the tools that some people have, but it is a sport that someone like me can still improve in. I can actually see myself getting better and better at pickleball, and that’s a great feeling – you always want to be challenged.”
Her co-founders also took to the courts around the same time and found that sense of magic that so many pickleball fans have found in the sport. However, through their times at open play at their local courts, Stith explained that they noticed that there weren’t many black athletes on the courts with them.
“I live in Atlanta, and Miami is a very diverse city also, but we still didn’t see a sum of people who look like us playing. And so, at first we were like, ‘How do we just encourage people to come out to the court and give it a try?’ As we did that, we noticed people just really loved it. They would play once and be like, ‘When can we play again?’ or ‘We’ll be there next Saturday.’”
After gaining some traction on the courts, the group ultimately decided to put a larger experiential organization together; thus, Pickleballin’ was born. Instead of just creating a traditional pickleball club, Stith and her co-founders wanted to make Pickleballin’ a unique and inclusive lifestyle brand.
Stith equates the model for Pickleballin’ to that of a golf or country club: They wanted to build an environment that elicits a positive, exciting, and welcoming feeling to those involved. She mentioned that they encourage several social elements in their events, like getting cocktails/mocktails and dressing up in fun athletic wear, typically themed to a different color at each event.
Their core events are called PickleClinic, PicklePlay, and PickleParty, each offering different approaches to connecting on the pickleball court. New players and players looking to up their play might be interested in a PickleClinic where one of their PicklePro coaches will run you through drills and exercises, while PickleParties are perfect for a fun night out with friends on the court!
“There’s a lifestyle element, and we want to make sure that we’re bringing that across. So, the PickleParties felt organic in that you play, and then you meet up somewhere with friends and have a drink or a quick bite to eat. It’s kind of a self-branded thing, but also I think it also makes it fun and is a cheeky way of encouraging the audience to come and try it out.”
The events at their heart are community-driven and supported, which is what pickleball is all about! When asked about branching out into other cities beyond Miami and Atlanta, Stith explained that they love the idea of continuing the growth of their community across the nation but also want to make sure that they continue to lift up their core members.
“This is very much a community event. Every time I go to my city courts, and my husband and I are playing, or my daughter or son and I are playing, someone will invite us to play doubles. That’s the way that the game should be; that’s the beauty of the sport. So, I would love to conquer other cities, but I also feel like we’re getting our roots really deep in Atlanta and Miami. In both cities, we’re even in talks to bring programs to the city through our Department of Parks and Recreation. There are also more ways of doing advocacy that’s beyond the way we’re currently doing it, so there are other options too.”
Stith recalled the story of their first-ever PickleClinic in Atlanta, where she realized just how powerful pickleball is in connecting people. What started as a 12-person clinic quickly grew to a 20-person event, which was then even further supported by the local Atlanta pickleball community.
“Your friends and family are going to show up because it’s you; but when complete strangers show up, and they are happy and interested and they show up the next time, it’s a really cool feeling. Again, the mission is to go out and tell someone else to come to either open play or a clinic, because you can learn from both. A clinic is great, but just playing with your friends and community is how you get better. That first event was just incredibly amazing to see come together.”
Another part of growing more interconnected within the black pickleball community has been through Pickleballin’s connection with other black-owned and women-run businesses. Stith explains that she’s relied on an incredible network of black women entrepreneurs, which has led to some key partnerships for Pickleballin’.
From Venus Williams’ EleVen skincare products to House of Brown wine, Pickleballin’ has been able to do some amazing giveaways at their events. The little details like this give their events a signature, special feeling and allow their guests to leave with a nice gift to take home.
“I think that the events are great, but I’ve also had such an amazing outpouring of women entrepreneurs that are like, ‘What can I do to help make your experiences all the more interesting?’ When you go to a clinic, you’re not expecting to walk away with a gift, and when you do, it’s like, ‘Wow, this is even more fun than I thought it would be.’”
Pickleballin’ has a ton of PickleClinics and PickleParties coming up in both Miami and Atlanta, including an exciting HBCU homecoming event for Spelman and Morehouse colleges at the end of October. Stith is excited to host the event and hopefully encourage some pickleball newcomers to try the game for the first time at the Pickleballin’ tournament and PickleParty during the homecoming festivities.
If you’re interested in connecting with Pickleballin’s community or attending one of their events, be sure to follow their Instagram and send them a DM to join their WhatsApp group chat! The group chats are the best way of staying up to date on all of Pickleballin’s upcoming events and meeting other pickleball enthusiasts.
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