We have often said this and we take great pride in repeating that pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports in the USA. What used to be a sport played by amateurs only a few years ago has professionals now who play the sport full time and earn a more than decent amount of money by doing so. We look at the earnings of pickleball players and if it’s a viable career for those playing it professionally.
According to the US Pickleball Association, in 2019 alone over three million players played the sport on 20000 courts across the country. However, it is important to remember that unlike other racket sports, pickleball still doesn’t have prize money so significant that only playing in the tournaments can be good enough.
Most of the pro players also take coaching sessions, clinics and have gear sponsorship that contributes very strongly towards their overall earnings. Here we shall take a look at how much do professional pickleball players earn.
How Much do Pro Pickleball Players Earn?
It is important to understand that unlike many other sports, the definition of a “professional” in pickleball is at times used very loosely. Until very recently the only requirement to play in professional tournaments was to pay up the required entry fee and that’s it, you could be playing against some of the best in the business.
Thus many players who have appeared in big tournaments are not necessarily “pros”. Here we shall consider professionals as the ones who play the sport full time and are involved in the sport around the year.
So how much do pro pickleball players earn? A top professional pickleball player can earn anywhere from $50k to $200k a year. Gear sponsorship is normally the highest contributor of the earning with some of the top players reportedly earning around $80k from the same.
Tournament Prize Money in Pickleball
The prize money for winning tournaments is still relatively low and most of the players have to depend on other activities to support themselves.
For example, the total prize money pool for the 2019 USA Pickleball National Championships was $80k. But the champions in the men and women’s singles category got only $2.5k as their winnings. To add to that, there are only 10 other tournament on the US circuit that offers a prize pool of more than $20k.
This just goes to show you need to be really good at pickleball, like a Ben Johns, to be able to make a sustained career out of just playing the sport. The good news is more and more sponsors are getting involved with the sport.
Gear & Equipment Sponsorship Incentive
The biggest chunk of professional players’ earnings comes from equipment sponsors and the total incentive purse in that segment is rising very fast.
For example, Selkirk Sport, the leading Pickleball paddle and accessories brand in the sport increased the incentive pool for its players and competition by more than 50% between 2018 and 2019 to $300k.
The brand ambassador for Team Selkirk and world number two player in men’s singles category, Tyson McGuffin feels that the money is growing fast and he hopes for a day where he doesn’t have to do coaching sessions to support himself.
“When I first started playing in 2015, I was teaching tennis at a club working 40 to 50 hours per week, Little did I know four years later I’d be in the position that I am now.”
“Playing professionally and only teaching 20 hours a week. It says something about the sport in general that the money and opportunities are growing, I mean for me if I could get to a point where I didn’t have to teach any more and could just play for a living, that would be a dream come true. And it’s heading toward becoming a reality.”
For those ranked lower down the ladder, one of the most important methods of making a living out of pickleball is coaching. Pickleball Coaching International is a coaching certification agency for pickleball and those looking to combine the careers of playing and coaching together can get themselves certified through an agency like this.
Depending on which part of the world you are from, costs can obviously vary but here’s bit of an indicator of how much coaches can earn.
At the very basic level, a pickleball student pays $10/hour for pickleball coaching classes, with groups of 10-30 players taught at a go. Some of this money is obviously used to book the courts and hire equipment but around 75% of this can be the coach’s salary.
Specialized or advanced pickleball coaching can cost a lot more while private coaching could lead to regular lessons at a higher rate for coaches.
Pickleball Coaching Online
This is in line with today’s day and age of professional pickleball players moving online to set up blogs or YouTube channels to coach beginners, amateurs or even intermediate players online.
We know of pickleball coaches who offer free coaching tips through their written and video content and earn through advertisements and affiliate income through selling someone else’s products.
Take the example of Barrett Kincheloe, who is well-known in the world of pickleball coaching and instruction, whose full-time income comes from his blog and YouTube channel. A lot of the content he puts up on both these media is free but he also offers paid pickleball coaching to those interested.
While we do not quite know how much Kincheloe earns from his pickleball coaching business, what we do understand is it’s his full-time job providing him an upward of $30k per annum at the very least (as a rough guesstimate).
If you are an aspiring pickleball coach and want to do something similar, you could look to kick-start your own blog with domain and hosting company BlueHost.com (a company we have used multiple times for an array of our websites including this blog when we started it off).
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Next Generation Choosing Pickleball over Tennis
Historically Pickleball was always looked upon as a game that was played by tennis enthusiasts and “older” players for whom the rigors of tennis were too much. The game itself has quite a lot of similarities to tennis and rules like underhanded serving and the serve being looked as a non-attacking shot does somewhat indicate as a game for older players.
But in the last few years, many talented tennis players have opted to switch a tennis racket with a pickleball paddle and they have done so because of excitement & unique nature of the game as well as increasing financial rewards.
Here’re a couple of examples of players who have done well for themselves and their stories around their pickleball career.
Zane Navratil – Tennis Prodigy to a Pickleball Star
World number 13, Zane Navratil who was a child tennis prodigy has great things to say about the growing money in the sport. Navratil won three consecutive state high school singles titles in Wisconsin and carried on to play collegiate tennis at the University of Wisconsin.
Navratil initially thought that Pickleball was an “old people’s sport” but he made a conscious decision in the end to choose the sport and financial rewards was a big part of that career choice.
“Previously, you couldn’t make a living just playing tournaments, there wasn’t enough prize money to do that. This current year [in 2020], if it wasn’t for COVID, there were a whole slew of tournaments …there are now two competing pickleball tours.”
“One of the tours is offering about $500,000 in prize money over a couple of different tournaments. The other one is offering about $300,000.”
“There is huge growth in the amount of prize money that’s being offered at these tournaments that’s making it possible for a few people — I would say maybe 10 — to make a living only playing tournaments.”
Rafa Hewitt – Following the lead of Tyson McGuffin
World number 17 Rafa Hewitt is another player who traded a tennis racket for a pickleball paddle.
A former Idaho Championship winner and all-time career win leader at Point University Tennis programme, Hewitt had two choices post his college. He could pursue tennis or switch to a similar sport in pickleball.
Just like McGuffin he wanted to turn from a tennis player to a professional pickleball player and soon made the decision to pursue the sport full time.
He admits that the fast pace, tactics and unpredictability of the sport is what drew him in, he recognizes that the financial aspect was also important in his decision to switch to the sport.
“He (McGuffin) used to play juniors tennis, He’s about 5 years older than me, so when I was younger I was always watching him and then he decided to pick [pickleball] up.”
“Being able to hit some crazy shots, letting the ball drop to where it almost hits the ground, some people aren’t expecting the type of shots that I’m hitting, There’s money starting to get involved in it and it’s more than just a fun game to play now.”
What About Pickleball Earnings Outside Top Bracket?
The phenomenal growth that the sport has seen has no doubt brought viewership, following and financial rewards along with it. But for players who played at the top level a few years ago or for the ones who are outside of the US, the money in the sport is still not enough.
And even for most of the current top 20 players in men’s and women’s categories, coaching and promotion of the game is still a big source of the revenue.
Sarah Ansboury – First “Pro” of Pickleball in True Sense
Sarah Ansboury, a former pickleball professional player and now a member of Professional Pickleball Federation has been coaching and growing the sport for several years now.
She has been going up and down every year participating in the various tournament and has had a huge role to play in the development of the game in the USA.
Ansboury recently said that with the formation of a professional association for the players, hopes were that they could attract more sponsors to the game and provide more money to the player. But she admitted that despite all the efforts, the money in the sport was not enough.
“Membership in the Professional Pickleball Federation is open to players ranked 4.5 or above who pay an annual fee. This enables the PPF to provide a series of tournaments that are classified as professional events.”
“This, in turn, brings more attention to pickleball at the highest level. This also allows players to have more events with prize money. Now we are not talking about making a living kind of money…but I believe this will come in time.”
Venise Chan Wing-Yau – A Female Finance Manager who won Men’s Thailand Open
Despite the massive growth financially in the sport, most of the money in the game is in the USA with players in other countries still playing the sport primarily out of love more than anything.
An example of that is Venise Chan Wing-Yau, a former number one tennis player of Hong Kong who took up Pickleball due to her husband’s interest in the sport and went on to win medals against top men’s and women’s players in Thailand Open.
She has admitted that she loves the sport and has got more recognition from it compared to tennis but she isn’t sure of playing it full time yet because of the lack of money in the sport.
And as a result, she has decided to continue with her finance manager job rather than pursue her passion for pickleball full time.
“I played a little bit in Hong Kong, then my friend asked me ‘why don’t you try the Thailand Open?’ So this year I’ve been to Thailand and I will also be going to the Japan Open in May and the English Open in July.”
“There are tournaments everywhere – especially in the US where there is some prize money – but the Asia circuit is just starting. Right now if you look at the pickleball scene, you can see that the top pros are former pro tennis players … it will be fascinating if I train [globally] and see how far I can go, but I’m not sure I want to do that because I can’t make a living from it yet.”
Final Words on Pickleball Salaries
Pickleball is no doubt becoming more and more popular every year. Its craze has caught up so much that more and more tennis players are likely to take up the sport in the next few years.
The sport itself has huge advantages in terms of the equipment and courts which are easily available in countries with many tennis and badminton courts. But the money in the game is still modest at best.
Some top bracket players do make more than decent money but the number of such athletes is limited and for most of the pickleball professionals, the game is not quite at a stage where they can pursue it full time.
But if the growth of the past few years continues in terms of its popularity and increasing sponsorship, the next generation of pickleball pros are likely to gain a lot financially.