Junior Pickleball Takes Root in the State of Arizona
Written by Laurie Johnson
USAPA Ambassador, City of Mesa
Even though the Arizona soil is hot and dry, some remarkable growth is happening in a corner of the Phoenix valley metroplex.
A healthy junior pickleball program recently has sprung up in Mesa, Arizona, and, thanks to the support of a passionate professional, young players now are gravitating to pickleball like roots gravitate to water.
Pickleball professional Ryan Trefry, himself a California transplant to Arizona, believes that with a little nurturing, organized competitive pickleball for junior players will take root in the desert — if these players are simply introduced to the fastest growing sport in America.
“It’s just a matter of reaching the kids and getting them on the court, because once they get on the court they love it,” said Ryan, a 5.0+ player who has accumulated more than 100 pickleball competition medals over the past four years.
Ryan believes that juniors need the same support that adult players receive in order to develop into confident pickleball players.
“The court is a little bit bigger for them, but the basics still apply,” he explained. “It all comes down to getting them up to the Non Volley Zone so they can play pickleball. The strokes and athleticism will come naturally to them. They are blank slates, not bringing any bad habits to the game.”
In March of 2021, Ryan laid down the foundation for a new junior pickleball program by inviting Mesa K-12 students to participate in four USAPA-sponsored free junior clinics held at the pickleball courts of Red Mountain Ranch Country Club.
Almost overnight, more than 100 students signed up for the clinics.
“Kids love to be active, love to play games, and love challenging themselves,” Ryan explained. “And that’s what the clinics were all about.”
Because so many juniors had signed up for his free clinics, Ryan had to turn to his adult Mesa pickleball students for help. Eleven adult picklers immediately volunteered to help him either register kids or coach a group of their own.
Kathy Hawthorne, one of the volunteers, said she saw happy faces — both young and old — everywhere she looked during the clinics.
“I thought it was fabulous first of all to see all the adults who normally wouldn’t be interacting with such young kids have such big smiles on their faces,” Kathy said.
“It was amazing how quickly the kids picked up the game, and the adults almost had more fun than the kids, just giving them ownership…. showing them that this is going to be their game, and that they could do it.”
Volunteer Rick Stoddard appreciated the opportunity he had to pass the love of pickleball on to younger players.
“I have a passion for the game of pickleball, and being an ambassador to the youth was a privilege,” Rick said.
“The best memories were those moments when the kids demonstrated improvement and a confidence in participating,” he said.
Eight-year-old Marley Snider was one of those juniors who left the clinics feeling more confident and excited about the game of pickleball.
“I felt good because of all the big kids that were there,” Marley said. “I liked playing the games with them.”
Marley, who now says pickleball is her favorite sport, said she loved the drills she got to practice with her fellow junior players.
“My favorite part was playing from the baseline. I really like to practice hitting from the baseline and making volleys at the kitchen,” she said.
According to Ryan, there is nothing quite like “the bright spot in your day” that comes from working with young pickleball players like Marley. Energized by their love for the game, and keeping in mind what he had observed in the clinics, he began to search for an ideal teaching environment for them.
On May 4, his search was over when he was named the Director of Pickleball for the new Legacy Sports Park, a 320-acre, multi-use family sports and entertainment complex that is set to open in Mesa in January 2022.
He could not be more thankful for the opportunities that this facility will bring to juniors.
“The Legacy facility is perfect for my junior programming,” Ryan explained. “Not only will I have 41 courts, but I also will have access to some other amazing amenities which include an eArena, soccer fields, indoor gyms, and a zip line that runs through the center of the park.”
Sports-loving juniors in the Mesa area will no doubt get excited about the pickleball after school clinics, spring camps, summer camps, and private lessons coming to the Legacy facility. But, according to Ryan, there will be more than just pickleball to attract their interest.
“Legacy will have a direct connection to the Mesa Schools, not only through pickleball but also through all of the other sports that are housed at Legacy. Legacy will be housing all major sports,” he said.