My First Year of Coaching Pickleball – The Ups and Downs

I wanted to document some of the highs and lows I experienced as a first year pickleball coach.

I’ve enjoyed coaching ever since I was a kid. I remember nights of practicing on the high school basketball team and then hurrying over to help my dad coach my brothers little league team. Those were busy but fun nights for me.

I also had my own tennis summer camp from high school through college. When I started working after college I had to give this beloved summer job opportunity up. I missed coaching for about the next 8 years of my adult working life.

What Made Me Decide to Start Coaching Pickleball

One of the primary jobs I had in my 20’s was living on a ranch with 4-6 guys with intellectual and developmental disabilities. During this time I used some of my coaching skills to help prepare some of residents for their special olympics events.

When I was 30 years old, I became the head coach for the Down Home Ranch basketball team. We practiced several times a week for about 10 months leading up to the tournament.

My amazing mom bought us all new uniforms and we were looking like a real team. We improved a lot over the last 10 months but still struggled in the main event against the larger organizations.

The fondest memory I have was after receiving the bronze medal (out of 3 teams in our division). My assistant coach presented me a “Coach of the Year” award on behalf of the team.

Our entire team cheered and came and gave me hugs and pats on the back. It was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had. I still tear up thinking about it.

I started playing pickleball a few months after that Special Olympics tournament. And then over the next 6 months decided that I wanted to be a full time coach. I officially began coaching tennis and pickleball at the Austin Tennis and Pickleball Center (ATPC) on October 1st, 2018. I was super excited and equally nervous.

My First 6 Months of Coaching Pickleball – Beginner Classes and Tournament Organization

I remember my first day coaching Pickleball was with a small group of players for my first beginner class.

It was the night of October 1st, 2018 and I was nervous.

“Am I good enough to coach pickleball? Will players get enough out of this class? What if I don’t know answers to their questions?”

Many questions raced through my head as I drove 15 minutes into the pickleball center. To build up my confidence, I put on old songs I would listen to as I got ready to play a high school basketball. #1 by Nelly is my go to song to attempt to pump confidence into my unconfident brain. It helped that night.

The first night was a success all things considered. I didn’t even have a full bucket of balls and the 10-20 balls I did have were an assortment of unclaimed pickleballs left at the center.

Organizing Pickleball Tournaments

I became the pickleball tournament organizer by default simply based on the fact that I was the only pickleball coach at ATPC.

It didn’t take me long to remember that my personality type doesn’t do well organizing large events.

I feel like I did a good job organizing the New Year’s Eve tournament along with the St. Paddy’s Day pickleball tournament. But they both drained my energy and spirit for about an entire month each.

On a plus side, I got to see my friends and family brought together by pickleball during this time. My best friend from college came to support me and try out pickleball at my first event I hosted.

Becoming a Better Player and Learning from the #1 Pickleball Player in the World

Though I never wanted to organize large events, I didn’t have many good alternative options to bring in money as I continued to learn the game better and grow my coaching business.

I organized a few large pickleball tournaments and taught junior tennis classes for about half a year as I improved my own pickleball game.

There were weeks that I would practice 12-18 hours on top of the 6-10 hours of coaching tennis and pickleball. But this practice was necessary to me learning the game and becoming a better coach.

During February of 2019, Tyson McGuffin came to ATPC to do his pickleball camp. I learned a whole lot from the #1 ranked player in the world during that week. Over the next few months is when I really started to see an improvement in my own game along with my coaching skills in general.

Months 7 Through 9 Coaching Pickleball – Private and Group Lesson Growth

My pickleball lessons began to grow shortly after Tyson’s camp and my 3 – 4 months of intense training afterwards.

Late Spring and early Summer is when I got my first couple of semi regular pickleball lessons. A few of my students really enjoyed the lessons they were having and they told their friends who then took some lessons.

Word of mouth was very helpful during this time as I began to get 1-3 hours of private pickleball lessons each week.

My friend Farra would tell me that one day I would have so many lessons I wouldn’t know what to do. While I believed her with part of my brain, sometimes I wondered when that would ever happen. This small growth of private lessons was the first glimpse of me seeing “too many lessons” as a real possibility.

An Update to the Way I Scheduled Group Lessons

I originally had about 4 weekly group lessons scheduled on the ATPC calendar. Over the months I realized how confusing the scheduling for those classes were. I even had trouble remembering what days and time they were.

Maybe 2 out of 16 group lessons each month actually had people attend them. And when someone did come, it usually ended up being a 1-2 person “group”.

I noticed that this was my fault due to poor scheduling. People were asking about group classes quite often but I didn’t have a good option for players to join.

So I scrapped the weekly options that I had previously and replaced them with group clinics that happened less often.

I also added group clinics for various skill levels. Before I just had clinics open to everyone and that was difficult to find players of similar skill for each class.

The 3.5 and above clinic along with the 3.0 and below clinics were very successful in comparison to the low attended weekly classes I had previously. I had several fill up within the first 2 months of me scheduling them.

The Last 3 Months of my First Year Coaching Pickleball – Injuries and My Own Branded Pickleball

The better I got at playing pickleball, the more invites I got to drill and play. The better I got at coaching, the more lessons I got asked to do.

Getting invited to play and coach more are very good things. This is what I was wanting for many months now. But it came with some rather annoying consequences.

Injuries I’ve had this Year from too Much Pickleball

Spending 10-20 hours on the court each week for many months in a row starts to take a toll on your body.

“I’m in my early 30’s, I should be able to go go and go without getting hurt, right?”

Apparently that thinking was wrong. Even though there was never a specific moment where I hurt something. The repetitive stress monsters fined me for the many hours of court time I had spent without enough proper breaks.

The pain started in my hips. Then my feet and legs overcompensated as I changed the way I stood/walked over the next few months.

Once my hips felt a bit better I was then having trouble even walking. During the 12th month of my first year coaching Pickleball, I realized that I hadn’t taken any vacations. So I took a week off to rest my feet and try to be able to move semi regularly again.

My feet were at about 35% capacity at the start of my vacation. I could barely walk and it hurt to bend over. They had improved to about 65% effectiveness after the week long vacation but still have a ways to go as they heal.

As of October 1st, 2019, my feet are still in quite a bit of pain. It’s still very uncomfortable even standing on the court for more than 30 minutes. My goal is to continue to rest them mostly while I slowly get back to playing.

What I did While Resting my Injured Feet and Hips

I decided I wanted to design my own logo for a pickleball during this time of rest. Here is what I decided on making and the process I went through for creating my own custom pickleball.

I’m very happy with the way it turned out and my new pickleballs have been playing much better than I could have even hoped for.

What I’ve Accomplished During My First Year of Being a Pickleball Coach

This flyer that I spent several hours designing sums up a lot of my self acclaimed accomplishments during my first year as a Pickleball coach.

Some of the accomplishments I’m proud of from this flyer include:

  • Being an effective and reliable communicator (contact info)
  • Developing my website with helpful information for pickleball players.
  • And a text messaging list that local pickleball players can sign up for to be notified of upcoming events.

I’m really proud of the progress that I’ve made both on and off the court as a pickleball coach this past year.

And here is some nice words that I’ve received from students over the year.

Positive Feedback from Students

I’ve been very grateful to work with a lot of good people during my first year of coaching pickleball.

It’s also been nice receiving helpful comments and feedback from some of those that I have helped out in the Pickleball world.

Here are a few of the nice things people have had to say about me and my pickleball lessons:

Nice Comment from Paul

“Calvin, I hope you are having a good weekend. I just wanted to say thanks for the lessons and everything you have taught me so far… thanks to you my partner and I came in 4th out of 15 teams at our last tournament. I had never met her before… besides all that you taught me, you had [also] helped my confidence tremendously.” – Paul

Nice Comment from Gene

“I was playing very well today with my transition and net games against strong players. The work we are doing is definitely paying off!” -Gene

Nice Comment from Melody

“Oh, everyone loves you Calvin. You are going to be booked up in no time!” -Melody

Several Goals I Have for My Second Year of Coaching Pickleball

A lot has happened during this first year of being a pickleball coach. It has been quite a year full of ups and downs. Mostly ups though which is good.

I’m not sure I would have guessed half of what ended up happening if you had asked me my expectations a year ago.

Speaking of expectations… I want to talk real quick about a few goals I have for year number 2 as a pickleball coach.

Goal A – Creating My Own Custom Paddle

Now that I have my own logo on a pickleball, I want to design my own logo for a paddle. I have already started looking into this and even have a paddle I’m interested in.

The problem for me at the moment is the cost. It will end up being close to $1000 just to have 5 paddles made with my logo and tested for USAPA approval. I’m going to save us some quarters and look into the most effecient and practical way for me to get this done.

In the meantime, I will start designing my own paddle face to be placed on the paddle that I am testing out.

Goal B – Improving My Pickleball Class/Clinic Offerings for Players of all Levels

Continuing to figure out what classes I can offer that help the most people and at the best value for players. A lot of what I teach can be applied to groups of players. Group lessons tend to be good for both the student and teacher.

The students get more time on the court for a fraction of the cost. And I make more per hour of court time. There is more work for me to do outside of the court when doing group lessons but I think this is good for me to focus on giving the amount of burnout my body has gone through the last 3-5 months.

Goal C – To Play in a Few High Level Tournaments (4.5+)

I want to continue to improve as both a player and a coach. It’s important to me as a competitive person to continue to pursue playing pickleball at a high level.

First of all this makes me happy. And second of all this makes me a better coach.

The tricky part is to not spend all of my play time training for high level tournaments and miss the social games that are important to the caring side of me.

Concluding My First Year as a Pickleball Coach

I wanted to say thanks to all of the amazing people I have met through my first year as a pickleball coach. It has really been a lot of fun overall.

There has been a larger amount of organization than I originally expected. But it makes sense after I think about it.

I’m very grateful that the 5 months of savings I had built up lasted me the entire year with the help of the money I made through tennis and pickleball lessons. I still have a ways to go before I am fully sustainable off of my income as a coach. But the goal seems much more attainable now than it did even 6 months ago.

One last thanks to my family and friends for supporting me on this fun and challenging adventure of trying to be my own boss as a pickleball coach.

Your support means the world to me!

Let me know if you have a fun memory of us together during my first year as a pickleball coach in the comments below. I’m curious to see what you enjoyed out of it as well.

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