Women's Retirement Radio

Lynn Cherry, Founder of Pickleball Fire - Spreading the word about today's fastest growing sport - Episode 37

October 25, 2021 Russ Thornton Season 2 Episode 21
Women's Retirement Radio
Lynn Cherry, Founder of Pickleball Fire - Spreading the word about today's fastest growing sport - Episode 37
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Women's Retirement Radio, I'm joined by Lynn Cherry.

Lynn is the founder of Pickleball Fire.

As a lifelong athlete across many sports, Lynn fell in love with Pickleball when she first discovered it in 2018.

Since then, she's created a website, a magazine, a podcast, and more to spread the word and introduce more and more people to the fastest growing sport today.

For more on Lynn and Pickleball Fire, please check out these resources:

Get in touch and let me know what you think or if you have any questions.

And thank you for listening.

Visit my website to learn more.

Disclosures

Russ Thornton:
Hey, everyone. It's Russ. And welcome to another episode of Women's Retirement Radio. Today, I am excited to introduce you to Lynn Cherry. So Lynn and I met each other online, and I'm excited for Lynn to join us and to share our conversation around what is the fastest growing sport, if not in the USA, maybe the world. Lynn can certainly address that. But, Lynn, welcome.

Lynn Cherry:
Thank you. It's great to be here.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. Well, I'm glad you're here too. Why don't we get started by you just telling us a little bit about who you are and what it is you're working on.

Lynn Cherry:
Right. So I learned about the game of pickleball, which I had never heard of until about three years ago and it's a wonderful sport. And for those of you who are probably like me, in their fifties, kind of late fifties, in my case, I moved to Connecticut from Texas, and I'm like, oh, what the heck am I going to do? And so I found the game of pickleball through the local recreation center and I had never heard of it before, but as Russ mentioned, it is the fastest growing sport in the USA. And so many of the people who play it are in the over 50 age group. Many people certainly who are retired, they'll spend hours on the court each day just because the sport's so fun. And if you're looking for something to do during retirement, it's definitely a great option. And even if you're not to that point yet, like I'm not still, there's always a opportunity to play this great game.

Russ Thornton:
What about, pickleball specifically Lynn kind of drew you in? I mean, it seems like you're all in on pickleball now. I know you've got the website and the podcast both called pickleball fire and just doing a little research and looking into your background, you've got a fairly athletic background so I'm just curious what appealed to you about pickleball versus maybe other activities or other sports that were available to you after you moved from Texas to Connecticut?

Lynn Cherry:
Right. When I moved, I actually at the time had not been doing any court type sports because I had completely torn a ligament in my knee. And actually I never really thought that I would be able to play a competitive sport again, as opposed to like just walking or doing something like that. But I'm not somebody who really likes the cold at all. So the first thing I did was I actually looked at the recreation center to see what was available and there was something called pickleball and I'm like, well, what is that? I've never heard of it. So I Googled it and looked at it when I was on YouTube. And I'm like, oh yeah, I think that's something that I would really enjoy. And I think I can probably go ahead and play the sport because it's on a much smaller court than say a tennis court.

Lynn Cherry:
It's the court itself is really more the size of a racquetball court. It's actually exactly the same size as a badminton court. And the thing about pickleball too, is it's a very social game. So much of when you're playing more than likely you will actually be playing doubles as opposed to singles. So definitely that's why it was very appealing to me with my knee issues. I'm like, I can really have a lot of fun, again, play a sport with a ball and it's much easier on my body. And that's what everybody says. I mean, that's why I've got friends who will start off at 6:00 AM every day and they literally play till noon. And we're talking about people who are just recreational players. So it's a very appealing sport. It's very, very fun and easy on the body.

Russ Thornton:
And you mentioned like the, I think one of the fastest growing age groups that are playing pickleball is kind of a 50 plus age range. And you mentioned that it has the potential to be a very social activity, a very social sport. But as I understand it, it can also be as competitive as you want it to be. Like I understand that there are tournaments and televised events and things like that. So I assume for those listening that maybe potentially use pickleball as a more competitive outlet, that's an option for them as well.

Lynn Cherry:
Absolutely. Absolutely. There are so many tournaments throughout, especially the US and Canada. And nowadays there is even a professional pickleball tour. In fact, there's two of them and they both started during 2020. So pickleball is actually going much more in the mainstream now, since it's being televised on TV. In fact, I think in a couple of weeks, there'll be some pickup ball on the tennis channel. Interestingly enough, I'm going just to watch a tournament in the Orlando area and they're going to broadcast some of it on the tennis channel, which is great. It's also been on ESPN and CBS network. And of course every professional event is also livestreamed on YouTube. So the sport, you can come into the sport and just for absolute fun. But if you're somebody who's a little bit more competitive, there's a lot of tournament opportunities and there's also a lot of leagues now popping up.

Russ Thornton:
Interesting. So before we maybe talk a little bit more about the game, could you maybe paint a little clearer picture about your involvement? I mean, clearly you're a participant. You play and enjoy it, but what motivated you to get more involved and start your website and the podcast and maybe share some other things that you're doing to maybe be involved in build awareness around the sport of pickleball?

Lynn Cherry:
It's really interesting. When I first started, I think it was probably literally a month after I played pickleball for the first time. I'm like, this is probably the greatest sport I've ever played. So I realized that I'm going to put up a website and write some content, help bring other people to the game. And I really didn't have a plan for the website at all. I mean, not at all, but I did start producing contents, put up some videos on YouTube and I was able to bring a lot of people to the website. And then in 2020 we had COVID-19 happened and I was very conservative in terms of where I went. And so actually I really didn't play any pickleball in 2020, but if you think about it, I'm stuck indoors pretty much the whole time in the winter here in Connecticut.

Lynn Cherry:
So I'm like, well, what am I going to do? I've got lots of free time. And that's when I started the Pickleball Fire Podcast and the way I've structured the podcast is there's a lot of people who certainly want tips from the pros and other instructors and coaches. So on Mondays, I actually have somebody like that. And when I released the episode is something... So you can learn more about the game, lots of instructional tips and then there's so much going on just with the growth of the sport in general. And so many things happening in the industry. On Thursdays, I release a podcast, which is somebody from the industry whether it's a commentator for one of the Province or a paddle manufacturer or whatnot, that's kind of the Thursday episode.

Lynn Cherry:
And then given the fact that there's so many people who are playing the game are over 50, I realize not a lot of, at least my age group listens to podcasts. And I'm like, I have really great content that's coming in, especially from the pros and the coaches and just some really neat profiles too. So I thought, well, let me put my journalism background to use and let me start writing up articles from the podcast. Because there was just so much content. So that's how I started the pickleball fire magazine. And right now it's a digital magazine that goes out to about 15 to 20,000 people.

Russ Thornton:
Wow.

Lynn Cherry:
Yeah, yeah. It's gotten some good traction, probably even more so than the podcast, but the podcast is really growing too. So as I mentioned, when I started the website, I really didn't have a specific plan or a business plan or anything like that, but yeah, everything is growing with the sport, but it was really a good time to start doing what I did when it comes to pickleball.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. Sounds like it well and congrats on the growth and the big and presumably growing audience. That's fantastic. And we'll be sure of course, to share links to your website and podcast and digital magazine and everything in the show notes for this episode so people can definitely reach out or sign up to learn more. So clearly as I think there's name recognition with pickleball on the sport and it's growing as you've mentioned. I think probably more people than not are going to be familiar with it, but I think it might be helpful if you wouldn't mind, just at a high level, maybe explain a little bit about the game, how it's played, what's involved just to give people that maybe aren't familiar with the sport a little bit more of a introduction to what's involved if it's something they're interested in and maybe trying out.

Lynn Cherry:
Sure. When it comes to the actual game of pickleball, it's kind of a cross between tennis, badminton and ping pong. So if you've ever played either of those three sports, I can pretty much guarantee you're going to love pickleball, but the game, as I mentioned before, it is played on a smaller court. So it's a lot less running, but it can be also a very fast game. And the biggest difference from say something like tennis is that we actually do not have a racket that strong, it's literally a paddle typically about 15 by eight inches and the game is played with a wiffle ball. So interestingly enough, the game kind of has a slow component and we'll call it a fast component. So at the net, well actually I should explain the one thing about pickleball. Probably the first thing, if you ever go and try and play is people will tell you about the kitchen.

Lynn Cherry:
The kitchen is an area on both sides of the net and at seven feet from the net. And that is an area where you cannot step in and hit the ball in that area unless the ball has bounced. And I'll tell you the reason for that rule. It was really interesting that when the game was invented, there was three families playing with their kids and they wanted to level the playing field. And I guess one of the founders, he was very tall. So they didn't want him to have that advantage at the net like you might in tennis if you're really tall. So that's why we've got the kitchen in pickleball that you have to stay out of unless the ball bounces. So if the ball is in the air, you cannot be in the kitchen hitting it. So if you're at a place on the court where you're just behind the kitchen line, a lot of times when you've got the four players at the net, the game can become very, very fast.

Lynn Cherry:
Even though you're just playing with the wiffle ball that's kind of the... We'll call that the fast game. And then there's also kind of, what's called the slow game in pickleball, which is if you think like maybe a drop shot in tennis, that's kind of a slower shot and that's akin to thinking or a third shot drop. So the game is a lot of people consider pickleball to be very much a game of strategy and it's more like chess than checkers. So there is a lot of thinking, especially at the higher level, in terms of a strategy. So just a really interesting mix of a lot of different things. And I would say really, the other thing too about pickleball is that people are very welcoming. That's definitely something you'll hear. So it's really a great place to socialize, meet people. And even if you've never played a sport before, you will typically be welcomed in. Of course, if you've done anything like a racket sport, you'll pick things up pretty darn quickly.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. That's interesting. And I'll admit I'm learning alongside our listeners here. So if I understood you correctly, if you're in the kitchen within that seven feet zone on either side of the net, you basically can't volley. The ball has to bounce first, is that correct?

Lynn Cherry:
That's exactly right.

Russ Thornton:
But if you're outside the kitchen and someone hits a shot at you and it has a bounce, you could volley it.

Lynn Cherry:
Yes.

Russ Thornton:
Is that right?

Lynn Cherry:
Yes, absolutely. Once you hit that volley, you can not then step into the kitchen over that line. So you've got a volley completely outside of the kitchen.

Russ Thornton:
Interesting. Okay. Well, yeah. And I can imagine how that could pick up the pace quite a bit if you've got four people all up at the net keeping the ball in play like that. Yeah. That sounds like that could be a lot of fun. You mentioned, the paddles and things like that. If someone says, "Man, this sounds really fun. I'd love to give it a try or at least go watch." Are there any online resources where people can find pickleball organizations or games or organizations in their local geography?

Lynn Cherry:
Yes. Actually on the pickleball fire website, I have a list of courts throughout the US and also into Canada. So it's really easy. All you have to do is enter your city or your zip code and any courts near you will pop up. And typically at this time, well, this'll probably be released a little bit later, but in the summertime almost anywhere you go play, you go to the courts and there'll be somewhere in the mornings. The other thing too is if you go and that's actually just go to pickleballfire.com/courts, you can also do a search for instructors if you would rather get some instruction to learn how to play. But again, you don't even necessarily need an instructor to go play. You just need to find a place to play.

Lynn Cherry:
And generally people will show you how to play the first time you show up. And that's exactly what happened to me is the first time I went to play, I said, Hey, I'm brand new. I don't even really know the rules. And so I played with somebody, Paul, who became a really, really great friend. So yeah. So just again, just got to pickleballfire.com/instructors or slash courts. And you can definitely find places to play. Now one other thing I should probably mention is the equipment. I mean, typically pickleball is played indoor or outdoors. There is indoor balls, there's outdoor balls, but probably the key thing when you first go to play is just make sure you've got a paddle. You can purchase a decent paddle for 40 or $50. If you've got a family and you want to get your kids into it, then for probably $100, you can get three or four balls and four paddles. But if you're somebody who comes from a racquet sports background, you might want to spend more like $50 on a paddle to get started.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. Well, I'm glad you mentioned that. I was going to ask about the equipment because I'm imagining that somebody that hasn't done it before and wants to give it a try, they might want to go out and see if they could maybe rent or borrow a paddle. I don't even know if that's an option or if it's just kind of expected that you kind of show up and bring your own paddle as a first-timer.

Lynn Cherry:
In most cases, it's expected that you would bring a paddle. I certainly did before I came. And just about everybody who I've seen come onto the court when they were just first starting, people pretty much always bring paddles. There aren't usually a lot of spare spare ones around you. Somebody might have an extra one on their bag. Actually, that happened when I went to go watch the very first time is they're like, oh, you should come in and play. And I'm like, oh no, no, because I didn't have any equipment or anything, but I think in that case, somebody did pull a paddle out of their bag. But yeah, if you can just purchase one before you go. It's probably the best option.

Russ Thornton:
Well, even with the, I mean, based on like the price ranges, you just threw out, I mean, even with the cost of a paddle, it still seems like it's a very accessible inexpensive activity or inexpensive sport to get started in. Would you characterize it that way?

Lynn Cherry:
Absolutely. And what's great is even into October in most places, you'll be able to play outdoors, typically outdoor facilities through most of the country. You can play at parks and whatnot, so there's no fees. And when it turns cold here in Connecticut, I will need to move indoors. But a lot of times the senior centers will have a gym. And typically at the senior center, there really isn't a cost or it's a very nominal fee just to become a member of the senior center. So that's what I do. Other options, a lot of YMCAs now have pickleball and actually a lot of the indoor tennis centers now do pretty much, I think anybody nowadays, who has a tennis facility if they have tennis, they have pickleball. And of course it gets a little bit more costly if you're having to join a club or even pay for a drop in fees. And anytime it's endorsed, it does tend to be a little bit more expensive as opposed to just playing at a park.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. Well, based on everything you're sharing with us, I can't imagine that anyone listening to this has any excuses not to go out and give it a try if it's something that they're interested in. Sounds very widespread and quickly growing and very accessible as you explained. So I think it's safe to say you would definitely encourage people to go out and give it a try and see if it's something they enjoy.

Lynn Cherry:
Absolutely. That's a very fun way to be fit. And the great thing is it's an easy sport to learn. So even if you've never really done anything like that, what I always say is if you can grab a wiffle ball and throw it under handed over the net, then you can play pickleball because some of the soft game and pickleball is basically that's like mimicking that thing shot. So it's a great way just to get started and get on out there.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. So you kind of discovered or stumbled into pickleball I think you said about three years ago. Looking back through all of your experience, both playing, observing, writing about it, sharing your experience with others, what's something that you maybe would've done differently based on what you know now versus what you knew then. So and I'm not sure there is an answer here, but I'm just curious now that you've gotten what sounds like pretty immersed in the sport. I'm just wondering if there's anything you would've done differently as far as your entry into the game or how you started playing, or is it a situation where you wouldn't really change anything?

Lynn Cherry:
Honestly, I wish I would have started sooner. That's the key thing. I mean, it's really odd because the sport was actually invented in Washington State. And think it's popular here in Connecticut because pickleball is so crazy popular in Florida. And so since you've got all the snowbirds going back and forth here, I think that's why it really grew in the Northeast. Whereas when I left Texas in 2018, nobody was playing pickleball. In fact, I spoke with one of the pros coaches out there, teaching pros out there in the Dallas area, which is near where I was. And he said, "Lynn, literally in the city of Dallas, there's four outdoor courts, like a total of four. That's it." You know? So just for whatever reason three years ago, people were just not doing it in that part of the country.

Lynn Cherry:
But now with the pandemic actually really helped the sport to grow because even the New York Times called it the best pandemic sport to do, because it's something where if you've got, you can even play it in your driveway. I mean if you've got a regular sized driveway, you can get a 10 foot net and you can start hitting the ball around on your driveway. You can chalk some lines on the court a smaller net is probably about $50. If you want, like a full regulation size net, it's about $100 if you've got the room. But I think that's really led to so much of the boom because the sport grew about 20% in 2020 and a lot of that people attribute to the pandemic.

Russ Thornton:
Interesting. And it's so funny when I have the opportunity to ask someone a question like that, what would you have done differently. Almost inevitably the folks that really love what they're doing. So they wish they would have started sooner. So I think if nothing else you share with us today is an indicator that certainly tells us you've found something you really love and are passionate about, which is fantastic. Part of my work with women as they're getting ready to retire, transition into that next chapter of life, I always try to emphasize that it's very important to think very holistically about your wealth, your life. And it's not just a financial perspective, but also thinking about your fitness, your health, your activity levels and things like this.

Russ Thornton:
And I can't help but think having spoken with you Lynn and having you shared about pickleball and how accessible and easy and fun it is to play, I can't help, but think what a great fit it could be for a lot of women out there that are maybe thinking, all right, well now if I'm retiring from work or if my kids are now up and out of the house, for example, and I've got more time on my hands, what a great way to spend your time, stay a little bit more active, meet some new people, maybe develop some new social groups that maybe you lose if you're giving up full-time work, for example. So have you in your play and in your writing and discussions with people in and around pickleball, I'm curious, you've said a couple of times that one of the fastest growing age group playing pickleball is the 50 plus age range. Have you seen it be a little bit more favored towards women versus men, or is it a pretty healthy mix of the two?

Lynn Cherry:
It is actually a very healthy mix. In fact, I came from a sport which was racquetball and that was a sport where it was really male dominated. Pickleball is totally different. It is definitely more 50 50. I think certainly in the older age group above 50, it's probably pretty close to being a split. So sometimes I go to the courts and there's way more women than men. Today was a pretty even split. But I remember one day last week it was probably 60% women, maybe 70%.

Russ Thornton:
Interesting. And just out of curiosity, how often are you out on the pickleball court?

Lynn Cherry:
Well until recently, I didn't get nearly as much chance to play because I was working my full-time corporate job, kind of those 9:00 to 5:00 type hours, but just last month I decided to quit my job by no means retiring. Actually I really enjoy working, but I just decided that I was ready to do something else after doing the same thing for six and a half years. And one of the things I did want to do was to focus a little bit more, not necessarily on playing pickleball, but on the website magazine podcast. So now I probably play four or five times a week.

Lynn Cherry:
I'm somebody who I like my game to improve and I'd like to drill. So typically I'll play competitively one day and then I'll drill the next day and kind of alternate. This week was a little bit unusual because we're expecting bad weather two days in the week, Wednesday and Thursday. So this week did actually go play competitively for two days. But one of the things that I've had to work up to as going from playing maybe twice a week for an hour and a half at a time to playing four or five days for two hours at a time or more. So I've kind of worked myself into that level over the last couple of months.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. Well, Hey, congratulations. That sounds like a big change, a big decision to move away from your current full-time gig and wherever you land next, it sounds cool that you've got more time to spend doing something you love, which is both playing pickleball, but I'm sure that also frees up more time for you to write and put out the magazine and work on the podcast and the website. So that sounds fantastic. I'm happy for you and I'll be interested to see where you head next, now that you've left your full-time work for the time being. Lynn we've covered a lot. Is there anything that I didn't ask you or anything that we didn't touch on that you think is important for our listeners to know either about you or just about the sport of pickleball in general?

Lynn Cherry:
What I would just say overall is if you can, get up off the couch and just go try it. Just about everybody I talk to says, the first time they played the sport they just loved it and they become addicted to it. So give it a try. Like I said, you can go to the pickleballfire.com website to learn more just about everything about pickleball. So I hope you can get out there and enjoy it like so many other people are.

Russ Thornton:
Well, I think that's a great place to wrap up our conversation. And as I mentioned earlier, we'll be sure to include links to your website, the podcast, the digital magazine. We'll even be sure to highlight the instructor and the court directory that you've the links to those you've set up on your website as well. And Lynn I just want to say thank you. I consider myself lucky that we connected recently and decided to make time to have this conversation and share with our listeners more about you and more about the sport of pickleball, which clearly you love and it's had a great impact on your life. So I'm really excited that we can have this conversation today.

Lynn Cherry:
Well, thanks so much. I really enjoyed being on.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah, me too. And everyone out there listening, thank you again. This is Russ from Women's Retirement Radio and we'll look forward to catching up with you on our next episode.