youth pickleball programs

Youth Pickleball Programs That Foster Skill Development and Are Fun!

One has to look no further than their local courts to confirm the fact that the average age of pickleball players is precipitously declining. More and more youth are learning the game and taking lessons – some of whom have taken tennis lessons previously – others embarking on a paddle/racquet journey for the first time.

At our local facility, we have been averaging approximately 25 home-school students during our recurring Thursday afternoon home-school clinic – with ages ranging from 7-14.

Goals for Youth Pickleball Programs

The goal for a youth pickleball program is several-fold. Firstly, it is important to instill in the kids a love and respect for the game – as well as a respect for their playing partners and opponents. It’s also critical to help the kids develop balance and hand-eye-coordination as well as build a solid foundation for them from a technique perspective and from a sportsmanship, winning-isn’t-everything perspective.

For those of you with young children, you understand all-to-well that a major challenge at this age is a short attention span. Therefore, the goal for any youth pickleball program is to keep the kids constantly moving and as engaged as possible with any potential downtime minimized.

Keeping the activities simplified, fun, and competitive – while still learning some pickleball skills – is critical.

So How Do We Engage the Youth and Make it Fun?

Each youth pickleball clinic begins with some warm-up where all ages are grouped together. These warm-ups are typically done without the paddle – dynamic stretching, jumping jacks, side shuffles and lunges tend to be the routine. During this time it’s important to engage with the students and develop a rapport with them.

kids tapping pickleball paddles

After the warm-up, we typically split the group of 25 into two groups – a younger group (ages 7-11) and an older group (ages 12-14). The older group then performs drills/challenges that focus on a specific skill. It’s important for this older group – who tend to be a bit more competitive – to do some competitive, game-play challenges.

For the younger group, we will typically begin with some drills/activities that focus on balance and coordination.  For example, we may play “Follow-the-Leader” as the pro guides the kids along an obstacle course around the court as we simultaneously balance a ball on our paddle as we walk (and speed up). These younger kids absolutely love doing this.

Another favorite activity for the younger youth is to keep the ball bouncing on the paddle. At some point in the “warm-up” we’ll all position ourselves in a confined area within the court. Each player will bounce the ball on their paddle (and keep it going) for as long as they can without the ball falling to the court and without the player leaving the confined area. If the player messes up, they are “out,” and have to exit the confined area. The last one bouncing the ball on their paddle in that confined area wins.

At the end of the warm-up time, and after drilling on specific skills, we’ll always play a game. That gets the kids’ competitive juices flowing – and they love it!

Jail Break

Jail Break is far-and-away the kids’ favorite. In the game of Jail Break, all players line-up single-file behind each other near the baseline on the other side of the net as the pro. The pro then feeds a ball (easy feeds for the less accomplished players and more challenging feeds for the “better” players). If the student hits the ball over the net and lands it anywhere in the court on the pro’s side, they are “safe” and go to the back of the line.

youth playing pickleball

If the ball, however, goes in the net or lands out-of-bounds, then the student then becomes a “prisoner” and goes to “jail.” The “prisoner” then has to put their paddle down and come to the pro’s end of the court. The only way to get out of “jail” and back in line on the other side is to catch the ball (before it bounces) of one of the other players. If they do, indeed, catch the ball, they get out of “jail” and the player who hit the ball then goes to “jail.” The one caveat of a caught ball is that players cannot catch the ball in the non-volley zone. This teaches and reinforces the skill and practicality of a long dink or drop shot.

The last player standing (after everyone else has gone to “jail”) then needs to hit a final shot that sucessfully lands “in” and is not caught by one of the other “prisoners.” If they successfully execute that final shot they are the undisputed winner. If it gets caught by one of the prisoners, however, then that “prisoner” gets his/her final shot to win the game. If the shot from the final player in line is not caught and, instead, goes in the net or out-of-bounds, then they go to “jail” and all the “prisoners” are free and the game basically starts anew with one person now in jail.

King/Queen of the Court

King or Queen of the court has become a second-favorite activity. In this game, a pair begins as the king/queen of the court. In our version of the game, three points are played from a feed from the pro. The game may be played exclusively from within the non-volley zone (working on soft dink shots) or on the entire court. It takes the challengers winning two of the three points to become the newly crowned king or queen. If the challengers do not win two of the three points, the current king/queen retain their royalty. This game reinforces actual game-play and camaraderie amongst the teams.

Your Imagination is Your Only Limit

There is no limit to the activities that can be done that supplement the instruction when developing a youth pickleball program. As long as it is challenging, practical, and most of all fun, the kids will love it. We have also done activities such as “H-O-R-S-E” and “Tic-Tac-Toe.” What about you? What are some fun pickleball activities you have seen or done with kids on the pickleball court?

Coach Todd
About Todd

Todd is the talent behind PickleballMAX. He knows pickleball and demonstrates it on the court as a 4.5 – 5.0 player. In addition to creating content and running the PickleballMAX business, Todd is IPTPA Level II certified. As an instructor at the Ohio Pickleball Academy, he instructs students and runs adult and youth clinics. He also manages tournament desks throughout the tri state for tournaments ranging from 100-500 participants.

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