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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Pickleball Growth, Volunteerism, and USAPA Ambassadors

Those who can, do.  Those who do more, volunteer...

I want to use yesterday’s post about the Waynesville pickleball party to discuss the positive impact of volunteers on the sport. I attended the party with a mission – to recruit a new USAPA ambassador for an area with a vacant spot. As I launched into my recruiting speech, I quickly realized that I needed to develop a new set of talking points. That is the genesis of this post.

We all know that pickleball has experienced tremendous growth in recent years. That is because 1) the sport is a fantastic game with lots of social benefits and 2) lots of folks have volunteered to find, organize, and develop players and places to play. 

Much of pickleball’s growth is organic, meaning that it occurs by word of mouth as new players fall in love with the game and tell their friends. In the Mountain District of NC, we have many retirees who are part-year residents in Florida or are “half-backs” that have moved out of Florida. Their time in the pickleball hotbed of Florida exposed them to the game and they brought their enthusiasm to NC. We are now a hotbed for pickleball growth as both locals and transplants are finding the game.

But a large part of the growth is due to efforts of volunteers who have responded to the pains associated with rapid growth. They have been active finding new places to play. They have tried to reduce conflict by organizing play as skill levels become more stratified. They have held beginner clinics to bring in new players and get them up to speed quickly. The efforts of these volunteers are invaluable to the pickleball community.

In fact, I would like to recognize some volunteers in the Asheville area. Inga, Julie, Ken, Rick, Kathleen, Bob, Nancy, Bill, and Jim in Henderson County, Joanna and David in Buncombe County, and Jim, Daniel, and Barbara in Waynesville are those of which I am aware. I’m sure there are more. All of these folks have helped change the local landscape for pickleball. 

One common theme runs among these volunteers – not a single one is a USAPA ambassador. I highlight that point to note that volunteerism comes from the grassroots. When folks see a problem, someone tends to take the lead to fix it. But, having said that, there are benefits for a volunteer becoming a USAPA ambassador. The benefits accrue to both the individual and the community. 

The first benefit is the support structure provided by the USAPA. The USAPA provides guidance on rules, court construction, player clinics, and refereeing, among many others issues. The application of this guidance ensures that the game played in your area is the same game played across the country.

The second benefit – and the one I would rate as the most relevant – is the support structure provided by the network of ambassadors. The USAPA has set up ambassador email and Facebook systems where ambassadors can ask questions and bounce ideas off one another. There is rarely a situation faced by an ambassador that has not already been experienced by another ambassador. Presenting a local scenario will normally result in lots of advice about successes and failures others have experienced.

The third benefit is a combination of the first two – ambassador-exclusive retreats. The USAPA offers the opportunity to meet with dozens (200 next January) of other ambassadors in formal presentations and informal face-to-face discussions of relevant issues to us all. Of course, there is lots of pickleball and socializing that makes for a fun event. I just attended a smaller SE regional retreat and highly recommend them.

The fourth benefit is the credibility that comes with the "title". The USAPA has a good reputation for ethics and knowledge of the game. It should - it is the governing organization for the sport and its main role is to grow the game. Government bodies will take a conversation more seriously with a representative of the sport's primary organization. The title, combined with the power of the constituency consisting of of the pickleball community, goes a long way to advance cooperation. Of course, a title alone will not be sufficient. It is just a start. Behavior that garners respect backs up the title.

Few of the benefits listed above are shown on the USAPA website. These benefits are my perception from 2 years as a local ambassador. There are other tangible benefits provided by the USAPA such as liability insurance. Some paddle manufacturers provide significant discounts for their products. These are great benefits but should be minimized when making a decision to be an ambassador. They are financial and, believe me, will not come close to compensating an ambassador for their time investment.

I am happy that Henderson County has 2 new ambassadors and Asheville has 1 new ambassador (in addition to 1 existing ambassador). Pickleball growth in the area supports the doubling in numbers. There remain some areas that need to be filled and the recruiting will continue. I hope that Waynesville will be one more vacancy soon filled. I also hope that any reader will consider taking on the role in their area. I highly recommend it for the fun and friendship.

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