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What’s So Great about Pickleball? A Q&A With a Main Line Pro

Pickleball is fun, social and friendly! Learn more about this wildly popular game and why Trang Nguyen, a pickleball pro in Narberth, thinks everyone can be a pickler. Plus where to find courts

It seems like everyone is playing Pickleball these days. Over the past few years, the game has exploded in popularity — seemingly out of nowhere. Where did this game come from? And what does a pickle have to do with it?

In the Q&A below, we get a local perspective from Trang Nguyen, a Narberth-area coach and pickleball pro who’s won at least 30 gold medals in tournaments around the country. She’s super enthusiastic about playing pickleball because it has so much to offer — it’s fun, competitive, and social! She says it’s easy to make friends with other players. Better yet, she says families can have a great time playing together — even with kids as young as six!

Trang also shared that racquet sports are a good choice to try playing with autistic kids, especially pickleball, which is easier than tennis. Inspired by the needs of one of her sons who has autism, Trang has begun hosting free pickleball clinics for autistic children and their parents. (The next one is happening on April 27, 2024!)

But first, a little about the history of Pickleball and origins of its name.

What’s in A Name?

It turns out that pickleball has been around longer than you might think. Way back in the summer of 1965, a couple of dads on Bainbridge Island, Washington devised the game to entertain their bored children. They improvised with what they had on hand, using a mash-up of elements from other sports. A badminton court. Ping-pong paddles. A wiffle ball. Over time, this much-loved pastime evolved beyond these two families into a game with set rules and official equipment. However, the original purpose remains: a game that the whole family can play together.

And what about the name? Apparently the wife of one of the creators named the game after the “pickle boat” in the sport of rowing. A pickle boat is one where the crew is a random mix of rowers thrown together. A rather fitting name for this hybrid game that was “thrown together” from an arbitrary assortment of sports, for fun. 

Fast forward to today. Thousands of pickleball courts have sprung up all around the country. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, pickleball continued to be America’s fastest-growing sport for the third year in a row, with an estimated 8.9 million players over the age of six. It took almost 50 years, but pickleball has arrived.

Meet Pickleball Enthusiast, Trang Nguyen

Trang began playing pickleball in 2018, soon after she emigrated to the US. Within a few years of starting, she earned her certification as an International Pickleball Teaching Professional Association (IPTPA) Level 2 instructor, as well as professional pickleball player status. When she’s not playing or teaching pickleball, Trang, a mother of two sons, works as a therapist at Narberth Chiropractic Center. We asked her why she loves pickleball and she was more than happy to share her experiences with the game.

Q: Why do you love pickleball?

“In 2018, I came from Vietnam to live in America and I have had my share of challenges assimilating into a new culture. Pickleball gave me a new language and common ground with my community. The social aspects of this sport helped me to create more ties with new people. I love competition and pickleball has an amazing amount of competitive events for participation. I also love the strategies of pickleball and how quickly you can improve with hard work. Mostly, anyone and every level can play pickleball together. I can play with my kids as easily as a pro. Both are fun!”

Q: How did you get started playing pickleball?

“I have a tennis background. While I was playing in my tennis group, I noticed an older man practicing pickleball by himself. I invited myself over and he gave me some pointers. We started to play and I fell in love with it. Pretty soon, the entire tennis group turned into a pickleball group! On that day, I found a new passion. What’s more, I got a new boss. That man, Dr. Arnold Weinberg of Narberth Chiropractic Center is now my friend and employer. Sometimes, curiosity pays off.”

Q: Can you talk about your experience teaching and playing pickleball with autistic children? Why do you recommend it for families with autistic children?

I have an autistic child and I am always worried about his health and well-being. My son needs to be pushed when it comes to exercise. Pickleball is easy to pick up and you can become proficient quickly. We think autistic kids are not good at sports, but they can play! My son has become very good. [Playing together as a family] creates a common language between my kids and myself. It is very social and requires a focus and attention, which provides a good stimulus for kids. Most of all, it is a fun activity that we can do together.

We will be holding a free pickleball clinic for autistic children with eight teaching pros on eight courts at Paddock Park, Havertown on April 27. It is a chance to bring together families with common challenges and to spend a relaxing day outdoors with a great game.

Q: What are some tips for beginner pickleball players?

– Practice is more important than gameplay. Specifically, drilling and practicing shots will progress your skill faster than just playing games. 

– Stretching and warming up are essential as pickleball injuries are on the rise. 

– Mastering the short game is important and will advance your game faster than just hitting hard. Bending your knees and shortening your swing will help. 

– Smiling and relaxing on the court are helpful when dinking (a strategic move where you softly tap the ball just over the net, creating a difficult return for your opponent). 

– Finally, pickleball and tennis are different games. Analyze the differences and get better at the less familiar skills needed to play.

Q: How has playing pickleball benefited you and your family?

“Pickleball is a wonderful source of stress relief and recreation. I am very centered when practicing pickleball. Socially, I have made so many friends and I have also met many clients for my business. Financially, I have been sponsored by some pickleball companies because of my tournament play. I became a professional pickleball player and coach, as well as an IPTPA Level 2 instructor, so my family has benefitted from that. But most of all, my family has benefited because of the fun we have playing. It’s a common interest which brings us together.”

Where to Find Free, Outdoor Pickleball Courts Around the Main Line

Maybe pickleball is your ticket to a fun fitness routine the whole family can enjoy? Below is a list of public courts around the Main Line where you can get your game on. And don’t forget to check with your township parks and recreation department. With so many new pickleball players out there, many townships now have “blended” courts with with pickleball and tennis lines. It’s important to note, however, that the net in tennis is approximately two inches higher. Serious pickleheads may bring their own net, but many will also play casually on a tennis court, unfazed by the height difference.

Ashbridge Memorial Park

1301 W Montgomery Avenue, Rosemont

This 28-acre park offers two, blended tennis/pickleball courts.

Bala Avenue Park

33 Bala Avenue, Bala Cynwyd

This park offers four, permanent courts. Nets are set for tennis.

Bo Connor Park

590 S Devon Avenue, Wayne

You’ll find one court at this park. Check with Radnor Township if you need to bring your own net.

Bob White Park

485 Falcon Road, Wayne

With six permanent courts, this park attracts lots of pickleheads. Check with Upper Merion Township if you need to bring your own net.

Clem Macrone Park

810 Conestoga Road, Bryn Mawr

Open from dawn til dusk, this nine-acre park features multiple blended courts with both tennis and pickleball lines.

Manavon Street Park

50 Tyson Street, Phoenixville

Enjoy access to eight, permanent courts that share nets with the tennis courts.

Paddock Park

214 W Hillcrest Avenue, Havertown

A fantastic place to play, Paddock Park offers eight, dedicated courts with permanent lines and nets. The park also provides access to restrooms and water.

Teegarden Park

440 Old State Road, Berwyn

This 22-acre park includes one outdoor pickleball court.

Wynnewood Valley Park

1505 Remington Road, Penn Wynne

Features multiple, dedicated pickleball courts.

Main Line Parent Writer & Calendar Editor. Email beth@familyfocus.org.