With special clinics called “Weaponizing the Serve” and “Mastering the Kitchen,” Marc Austin takes the game of pickleball to a whole new level.
A certified pickleball instructor, Austin has been offering the clinics, as well as classes for all skill levels, for Howard County Recreation and Parks in a contract position for more than two years.
“In Howard County, it’s amazing,” Austin said. “There are so many people coming into the sport.”
Pickleball, Austin said, is a “bunch of different sports” combined with elements of pingpong, tennis and baseball, as well as racquetball and badminton. Originating in Seattle in 1965, pickleball is played by either two or four players who hit a ball similar to a Wiffle ball over a low net with solid rackets. It can be played inside or outside on pickleball courts or specially marked tennis courts.
“It is just flat-out fun,” said Austin, who has contracts throughout the area to teach classes, including in Montgomery and Baltimore counties and the town of Mount Airy.
On a recent overcast morning, laughs emanated from the pickleball courts at Mount Airy’s Prospect Park as new players shook their heads in bafflement, trying to understand the sport’s lingo, from kitchen sink to second server.
“I think I just got it!” one of Austin’s 24 students yelled in excitement.
Lucas Huang and Johanna Fong, of Ellicott City, came prepared for the session with their own paddles. The two had played once before with friends.
“They were super competitive, and we were out of our element,” Huang said. “We wanted to try it again with a noncompetitive program.”
Eric Peart, of Mount Airy, was feeling confident.
“I don’t find it difficult at this point. Nothing hurts yet,” he said. “It looks like a very social, fun activity, especially for people retired and wanting to get out and enjoy themselves.”
Pickleball is “good for so many reasons,” Austin said. “You exercise all different muscle groups, and it can be a very social sport. It is unique.”
The sport has grown in popularity the past two decades, Austin said, and in Maryland there’s been a significant growth in interest in the ast four years. According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, about 4.2 million people in the U.S. play the sport.
“We have 650 members in the association,” said Joanne Griesser, president of the Howard County Pickleball Association. “When we started five years ago, there were 30 of us in a small room. Now, we don’t have a space big enough to hold all of us.”
Members of the association have access to its directory, which lists all members and their levels of play. The association also organizes various member tournaments, Griesser said.
“We have drills and skill sessions,” Griesser said. “We also have social get-togethers.”
Paddles, balls and a net are all that are needed to play, Griesser said, and are relatively inexpensive to purchase. In Howard, many courts already have nets.
Austin, Griesser said, has been a member since its beginnings and has been a “wonderful pickleball ambassador.”
“He is the most highly rated teacher we have in Howard County,” Griesser said. “He is always willing to answer questions.”
In two years, Austin has had 800 students through the Howard County Recreation and Parks programs. The classes are so popular there are waiting lists and the department has hired another pickleball coach. While Austin is still planning to coach, he is cutting back on his hours this year.
“I want to play a little bit more,” he said with a laugh.