Pickleball isn’t in the lexicon of most sports fans.
The game — which is a combination of tennis, badminton and ping pong — has only just recently started catching on locally among the older community.
But there’s plenty of room for growth and, as far as Howard County native Josh Jenkins is concerned, it begins with changing the narrative that the sport is primarily for seniors.
“I’m focused on getting the younger generation to play,” Jenkins said. “It’s really a game that can be played at all ages and all skill levels. It’s a very inclusive sport, and it doesn’t take a significant level of skill for someone to start playing.”
Jenkins, who grew up in Ellicott City and went to Mount St. Joseph, said his goal to spread the game to a younger audience is why he wrote a children’s book about the sport — “Pickleball with Pop,” which was published last November.
“I was relatively new to starting the sport, and I was on the younger side of pickleball players. My family members kept asking me what pickleball was, so I wanted to introduce younger generations to the game,” he said. “I saw an opportunity to grow it at the grassroots level and saw there wasn’t a pickleball book out there. The target age for the book is anywhere from 4-8 years old.”
“Pickleball with Pop,” which was illustrated by Karine Makartichan, can be purchased at joshjpickleball.com. The book is Jenkins’ first.
“The story is about how a grandfather and a grandmother introduce pickleball to an elementary school class. It catches on in the whole neighborhood, and all ages, ethnicities, genders are able to play. It’s about branding pickleball to the younger generation but also branding it as an inclusive sport.”
Jenkins, who played golf at Towson, started playing pickleball two years ago after a shoulder injury ended his competitive golf pursuits in amateur tournaments.
A friend introduced Jenkins to pickleball, which is played with paddles and plastic balls — like wiffle balls — on a 44x20-foot court, and he was quickly hooked.
“Pickleball takes a very low level of skill to start playing. You can get someone playing pickleball and be competitive rather quickly,” said Jenkins. “I was pretty good at it, and it got those competitive juices flowing. The aspect that I was missing from golf as a social sport was supplied from pickleball, and I was getting exercise.”
Jenkins, 31, now travels the country playing in tournaments and gives private lessons as a certified instructor through the International Pickleball Teaching Professional Association. He has taught a wide variety of ages, including a couple of children’s clinics.
He is also the director of a pickleball league at Forest Hill Swim and Tennis Club in Ellicott City.
While Jenkins is hoping to gain a younger audience, others, like Ken Greco, are also happy with the current players being attracted to pickleball. Greco, who is the social chairman for the Howard County Pickleball Association, said the group has more than 300 members.
The HCPA was formed four years ago by “a bunch of regular pickleball players,” said Greco, 69.
“Now,” he said, “we’re the largest pickleball club in Maryland.”
The growing club has meetings and offers tournaments and instruction. Greco, a former vice president of the club, first started playing pickleball as an outlet and a way for exercise.
“My wife got cancer, I stopped working and I became her caretaker,” he said. “I needed something to do, and I picked up pickleball. It’s a very social group. We talk about everything from kids to family to schools.”
He said the best way to get involved with the association is to visit howardcountypickleball.org.
Jenkins said the HCPA is doing well at providing opportunities for people to play. For example, the county currently has several dedicated pickleball courts, such as ones at Owen Brown Tennis Club, Atholton Park and the Columbia Association Tennis Center.
While Jenkins’ goal is for the game to grow among a younger demographic, he added it’s still important for parents and grandparents to play. Without them, the game wouldn’t be able to transfer to younger generations.
“I think part of it is to continue to get more adults playing to introduce it to kids,” he said. “Without parents and grandparents telling kids to play, it’s hard for the kids to get into the sport.”