Meet Connor, my brother’s nephew-in-law and the latest member of the pickleball community. I had the pleasure teaching and playing with this athletic ten-year-old this past Saturday. He’s been wanting to play for a very long time and finally, he got his time on the courts to learn. The big question is: how do you competently teach kids how to play pickleball?
Before we begin, I have to brag. I wish you could have seen some of the shots he pulled off. At one point, Connor and I were playing against two adult men who are at least 6 feet tall. They were going easy on him of course, but Connor wasn’t. Even though he doesn’t have much experience with his backhand, he hit some crazy backhand shots that just barely grazed the net and landed on the centerline. Those 6-foot guys had no chance.
Another time, he hit this awesome lob shot that our opponent somehow couldn’t get. It sailed up into the air just over their smash zone and landed in the very back corner of the court on the lines. You should have seen the smile on his face.
It was such a great time teaching him how to play and I could easily tell that he enjoyed himself and felt good about how well he played. I learned quite a bit from this experience and I’m going to share with you everything that I learned.
Why should kids play pickleball?
Because they genuinely love it. You may not ever have to convince your kids to play pickleball. I remember one time I announced to Connor, his brother and my niece that we could go out and play pickleball. All three of them threw up their hands and cheered in excitement. Kids love pickleball.
Gain more confidence
Like other sports and activities, pickleball will increase their confidence. As you know, pickleball is challenging. When kids (and adults too), overcome significant challenges, it raises their confidence. That’s always a good thing. An increase in confidence will spill over into other areas of their lives like school for example.
Let’s not forget great exercise either. Pickleball is known for being low-impact, but it’s certainly not low-cardio. They will be red in the face by the time they’re done playing.
How to get them into pickleball
First of all, if the kid looks up to you in any way, then they will be attracted to pickleball solely because you are. I know many kids in my friends and family sphere. Even as an Uncle figure, I try to spend a lot of time with them. They love me for that, and by extension, they love pickleball because they know that I do. That’s just how kids work. If this is the case for you, then you’ve got a huge advantage.
Don’t be overbearing
Let them have fun! Don’t try to micromanage everything about their game. You want the experience to be both enjoyable and educating at the same time.
When we were driving to the courts, I asked Connor how much instruction he would like. He mentioned the things he would like to learn and I just added a few things on top of that. I taught him those things, and we had fun for the rest of the time. He smiled a lot, which is always a great sign.
In general, if you’re taking their pickleball experience more seriously than they are, then that’s probably not going to be the best for them.
Previous sports experience
Kids are far more likely to participate in pickleball if they have previous racket sports experience. This is true even if they’ve played other “ball-smacking” sports like baseball.
Connor has multiple years of baseball experience and that certainly helped him on the courts. Yes, he performed his ultra mega grand slam swing a few times and whiffed, but just a few reminders about the proper pickleball stroke was enough to get him back on track.
Be on their team
There’s something about ‘being on their team’ that kids love. I’m not sure what it is, but it really works. At one point you will explain to them that pickleball is primarily a team sport. With that, you can tell them that “we’ll be on a team together”. They love this and it should encourage them to get out on the courts.
Let them play with your paddle
One of the best ways to show kids our amazing sport is to take them outside and hit the ball back and forth. This is a whole load of fun, but it’s also a great bonding opportunity. By doing this, you can get a general feel for how coordinated they are and what they will need to work on.
You can also teach them the basics of pickleball like not hitting the ball twice and not hitting into the net. If you’ve got an actual pickleball net you can use, that’s even better!
Best paddle choices for kids
Picking a paddle for them is the easy part. For kids aged ~5-11, you’ll want to get them the lightest weight paddle that you can find. For older kids and teenagers they can use whatever they want, but staying around the 7.5 oz mark would be best for that group.
My #1 pick for young children
The best paddle that I recommend for young children is the Paddletek Phoenix LTE. If you’ve been around this site at all, then you know that I recommend this paddle often. I also recommend it for kids but for only one reason: weight.
The only factor that you need to worry about in terms of kids paddle choices is weight. Nothing else matters. If they use an 8 oz paddle or heavier, they are going to have a rough time. It’s hard enough for them to swing an adult-sized paddle, and there’s not many junior paddles out there.
Speaking of junior paddles, the only one that I can recommend is the Paddletek Ranger. This paddle was made specifically for kids. It’s very lightweight and will accomplish much of what the Phoenix LTE can.
A good pair of shoes
Buying a great pair of tennis or court shoes for them is going to be an important step for you to take. What you’re looking for is a sturdy shoe that has support on all sides. Do not let them wear flip-flops or any type of open shoe. Running shoes should also be avoided.
Furthermore, the shoe should be flat on the bottom. It’s OK if there are some grooves, but there shouldn’t be any treading like you see on running shoes. Here’s what the sole of a tennis shoe looks like:
This will give them the most traction for flat surfaces like tennis courts or gymnasium floors.
Taking them to the courts
Now that we’ve gone over how to outfit them for pickleball, let’s talk about taking them to the courts. Before we get into it, we need to cover something right up front that is important.
Mind other people’s time
Look, no matter how great your kids are in other sports, there’s going to be people at open play locations that don’t want to play with them. That’s normal and expected. While you’re there with your kid, you have to respect other people’s time. You can’t just hop into a game with two other people who don’t want to play a beginner’s game.
Instead, you have to manage the games that you play. If you already have other family members or friends to play with, then this is the best option. But if you don’t, then it’s best to ask around to get people to join you. Try to find people are going to play easily with your child. If you can find people who are great with children that’s even better!
Teach them two basic rules
On our way to the pickleball courts, I taught Connor two rules of pickleball. I taught him the kitchen rule and the double bounce rule. This gave him a very basic understanding of the game, but not enough to overwhelm him. I told him that he would forget the rules while playing, and he did, but that even adults forget sometimes (including myself.)
The reason why you want to teach them these two rules first is that not getting a fault in these areas means that they’re playing and practicing more during the session. The more they play without getting faults, the more fun they will have and the more likely they’ll want to play more.
They’ll learn the rest by osmosis
Don’t worry about teaching them every single rule in the book. Most of the rules that you see in pickleball are very basic and they will learn them over time. The best way to teach them the rest is to teach as you go. Kids don’t want to sit there and learn about the subtleties of line calling ethics applications in a tournament setting. That sounds boring just typing that. They want to get out there and smack the ball.
Sometimes when I’m teaching someone new for the first time, I won’t keep score. But for pickleball, it’s important to keep score. The reason is that scoring in pickleball can be difficult to keep track of. How many times have you had to stop play to think about what the score is? I’ve done it many times.
If kids want to learn how to play, they have to learn how to keep score. You don’t have to make a big deal out of who wins or loses. Just teach them how scoring works. They will slowly get used to it.
I appreciate you reading all the way through the article. Have you had any great experiences with kids and pickleball? I would love to hear about it in the comments below!