Pickleball has a reputation as an old timers' sport, and that's fine by us—more time on the courts! But sometimes you just have to wonder: Won't someone think of the children?
Today an Ontario club is sharing how they not only started an adult pickleball league, but created an entirely new pickleball program for kids.
This past August, Dan Pronovost of the K-W Badminton Club was awarded a $13,331 provincial grant to start a free pickleball program for the community's youth. It's an exciting development that will help show how the game's versatile appeal while giving kids a positive outlet for their energy.
Setting the Scene
'I've been a member of the K-W Badminton Club (KWBC) for many years,' Dan explains. 'About 5 years ago, it became clear we'd need to purchase our building to continue growing our club and add additional sports. I joined the board to help manage this process and oversee renovating our 45,000 sq. ft. building.
'I'm happy to say since the purchase of our building in 2013, we've renovated about 25,000 sq. ft. of space for sport use. About 75% of the building is in use by our sports tenants and users. This includes axe throwing, roller derby, bike polo, professional wrestling and pickleball, along with our badminton club of course.'
Dan says that his group first reached out to KWPA, the Kitchener Waterloo Pickleball Association, in 2014 to bring the sport onto their six court badminton facility. Thanks to this cooperation, they now have daily pickleball programs for all skill levels.
'Hundreds of players visit the facility for pickleball every week, from beginners to advanced players who visit despite being hours away. Pickleball has been an excellent way to add additional weekday daytime programming in a facility that would otherwise be empty.'
Clearly, the club's leadership went a long way toward getting pickleball established in the first place. But considering grants are something many pickleball groups would love to obtain, how did Dan make his case? Turns out it was a combination of past experience and finding an underserved demographic.
'We became aware of the Ontario Sport and Recreation Communities Fund (OSRCF) through our successful Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) grants in past years. In talks with KWPA, we decided that pickleball for youth is a very underdeveloped demographic, since the sport is primarily aimed at seniors.
'But pickleball is of course equally exciting and fun for kids! The partnership opportunity with KWPA made perfect sense: KWBC is a mature and fiscally strong non-profit organization with grant experience and a world class sporting venue. KWPA has excellent talent for developing and leading a professionally-coached youth pickleball lessons program.'
The money for the grant has been allocated for, in order of usage:
- Coaching/instructor costs for the lessons (although 50% of the coaching is volunteer/non-paid)
- Additional administrative staffing and facility upkeep
- 20 new pickleball paddles and sufficient balls for one year
- Development of the coaching program/youth lessons sets
- Coaches certification and training
There are an incredible 192 kids that will get to enjoy this new program, where before there were no local opportunities for kids to play pickleball. The KWBC has also run paid youth badminton lessons for over 10 years which have been successful, so they feel confident there will be similar interest in pickleball.
Dan says the OSRCF grant will let them to make the pickleball lessons available for free to all participants for the 2016/17 school year, even with paddles and balls being included. With professional coaching, a great venue and free lessons, it's not hard to see why spots fill up fast.
Their aim is to use the OSRCF grant to 'seed'' the pickleball youth program in 2016/17, then continue with a nominally paid program beyond that to break even.
It's a smart and beneficial model for all parties involved. While securing the grant was relatively straightforward, there are other concerns Dan has about supporting a thriving sports community.
Effort and Expansion
'The challenge is maintaining an 80+ year old building for sport use. Since the purchase of our building in 2013, we've invested over $500,000 in renovations and thousands of volunteer hours. While we are very happy to have received generous grants from sources like OTF and OSRCF, we can always use more help to further improve the quality of our venue.
'We are hoping to further renovate our 10,000 sq. ft. concrete rink pad space, which is used for pickleball and roller derby, by replacing part of the roof, adding heating for better winter usage, insulation, and high-quality floor painting and lines. Adding air conditioning for summer-time use is one of our more frequent member and user requests!
'The demand for sport space in the core of Kitchener is growing, but there are no municipal plans to add venues. Every time we open an area of our building for tenants and renters, the space is taken almost immediately, especially for lesser-known sports struggling to compete for space.'
Dan says that he believes forward thinking, financially secure non-profit organizations such KWBC are key to helping address shortages of sport space for everyone in the community.
He also welcomes and encourages all pickleball players to visit their club, so if you're ever in the area, feel free to stop by! KWBC hosts a popular regional pickleball tournament in spring, which is a draw for players from abroad to come out and compete.
'Many other sporting organizations are starting to see the value of adding pickleball to their venues. Indoor and outdoor tennis clubs are a good candidate for adding pickleball to help support their facilities and courts. Any club with a suitably-sized gym should be thinking about adding it to fill unused court times.'
We agree! To our readers looking to expand pickleball offerings in their area, we hope you'll keep this advice in mind and push local community centers and other facilities to bring our favorite sport to the masses.
Thanks to Dan for his time and hard work ensuring pickleball is available to players of all ages!