You may have heard some buzz about pickleball, recently — it’s the sport that’s captured the attention of people across age groups. And one of those is kids.
“Pickleball is becoming popular with kids for a few reasons: It’s a very easy sport to pick up, it’s incredibly captivating, and it’s fun,” says David Dutrieuille, a pickleball pro consultant with Life Time.
The sport also not only offers the benefits of physical activity, but also encourages strategy and provides mental stimulation. “Pickleball lets kids be active in a lower-impact way, protecting their joints and tendons,” says Dutrieuille. “The mental stimulation also helps with mood stabilization.”
Then there are the social perks of the game — kids can play with friends, while it’s also something they can do with family. “This sport opens the door to develop and capture community,” says Dutrieuille. “In play, you have to communicate and work together. Pickleball is inclusive by design because it’s primarily a doubles game. It also requires a low level of mutuality or friendship and can help kids feel a sense of belonging.”
If you’re interested in getting your kids started with pickleball, Dutrieuille offers the following advice.
1. Warm Up, Gear Up
As with other sports, it’s important to warm up before hitting the court — you want your muscles to be loose and warm, which can help prevent injury. Dutrieuille recommends jogging for a few minutes and doing a few stretches to get the blood flowing.
“You’ll also want to wear proper footwear to protect your ankles and feet — I can’t stress that enough,” says Dutrieuille. “Running shoes will suffice but they aren’t ideal. Cross-training shoes are better, but still not great. Basketball and volleyball shoes are decent, but any shoes that are designed for lateral movement, such as tennis-specific shoes, are best.”
2. Keep It Fun
Pickleball is meant to be fun, but any time you’re learning something new, frustrations can arise. Dutrieuille offers these tips for keeping spirits up:
• Start with singles. While singles is often the more difficult style of play for adults, learning the scoring for doubles can be harder than it is for singles for kids, so start with one-on-one. Bonus? Kids usually don’t mind chasing down more balls on their side of the court.
• Try other games. Instead of playing a traditional pickleball game, mix it up with variations, like this pickleball version of Around the World (this game is best played with four to eight players):
• Follow the regular rules of pickleball, except when one player hits the ball, they then leave their side of the court and hop in line to play on the other side of the court next.
• Continue rallying back and forth, with each player only hitting the ball once before exiting the court. Players will move in a clockwise rotation.
• Try to maintain a continuous rally for as long as possible.
• Get close. Focus on playing close to the net. Generally, when there’s a smaller distance between players, it’s easier to hit the ball. You could also shrink the court by cutting it in half and only allowing half the court space to be used for play.
• Adjust the rules. “My goal for children, when introducing a new sport, is to enable them to play, even if it’s not in a by-the-rule-book kind of way,” says Dutrieuille. “Modify the game and progressively implement rules that make it harder as they catch on.”
3. Be Inclusive
One of the great features of pickleball is its inclusivity — so embrace it!
Get on the court with people of different ages.
“I think one of the reasons pickleball has been so popular — and will continue to be — is because there are very few sports I’ve encountered where a grandchild, a parent, and a grandparent can all play on the same court and have a meaningful, competitive, belly-laughing good time,” says Dutrieuille.
Play parents versus kids.
“I always tell kids to challenge their parents to a game, because pickleball is a sport where the youthfulness that normally lends itself to a competitive advantage gets mitigated by the area of the court called ‘the kitchen,’ which makes it pretty even fun for all,” says Dutrieuille. “And kids, if you’re struggling to beat mom or dad, challenge them to a singles game where you may have an advantage of out-running or out-chasing them to the ball.”
Encourage everyone to play.
“This sport is truly for everyone, and pickleball players are known for being notoriously friendly,” says Dutrieuille. “If you see a group playing and want to join, ask them. If you notice someone wanting to play, invite them in.”
4. Try it Out
There’s no one right way to start playing pickleball; choose to hop on a court and just go for it or look for a more structured introduction.
“I suggest joining an Intro to Pickleball class at Life Time to get a better understanding of how to play,” says Dutrieuille. “The class is led by a knowledgeable coach and teaches the basics of the sport — and it’s complimentary for members. If your kiddo is under the age of 12, we’ll also have a junior programming option coming soon.”
Families are also welcome to reserve a court or time during Open Play. If you’re playing at Life Time, paddles and balls are provided for you if you don’t have your own. Dutrieuille recommends reading up or watching videos online to learn the rules, then just getting out there and starting to hit the ball!