Q&A: Aaron Browning, Athletics Coordinator for Knoxville Parks & Recreation

Athletics coordinator for Knoxville Parks & Recreation, Aaron Browning is lead organizer for its open pickleball games—Mondays and Thursdays at 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and Wednesdays at 5:45 p.m.-8:45 p.m.—at Deane Hill Recreation Center (7400 Deane Hill Dr.). The city is planning to expand offerings after Labor Day.

 

Truthfully, does this have anything at all to do with pickles?

Nope. Rumor has it that the family who invented the sport had a dog named Pickles, but they got the dog after the game was created.

 

Can you describe the game in 25 words or less?

Pickleball is a growing sport that combines the skills and fundamentals of tennis, badminton, and ping pong, with a relatively quick learning curve.

 

What skill will make you good at pickleball—and is there a skill you can’t play without?

Hand-eye coordination is key. Previous racket-sport experience increases the learning curve but isn’t necessary to learning the game.

 

Who’s the best pickleball player in Knoxville?

I’m not sure we know who the best player in Knoxville is at this point. We offer open pickleball in a few gyms, but haven’t had any tournaments or official match play to be able to give out that title. 

 

Are you good at pickleball?

I play—I have played tennis for many years, so I was able to pick it up quickly. I learned with a group of friends on a tennis trip in Auburn, Ala., then learned the specifics of the sport when we started offering Pickleball last fall.

 

Why is it getting popular in the U.S.?

Pickleball is most popular with aging citizens, although we’ve seen kids, teens, and adults fall in love with the sport. It’s a fast-paced, low-impact sport that gets you moving more than you realize. The court size coupled with the ball, paddles, and rules make the sport enticing and addictive as you build your skills.

 

How far could a person go with pickleball?

There are tournaments across the nation as well as a national championship hosted by the USAPA.

 

Do you ever envision it being an Olympic sport? SEC sport?

It’ll be in the Senior Olympics soon if it’s not already. It’s probably a few decades away from being big enough across the world to making it as an Olympic sport, although it would be a lot of fun to watch. I don’t see it becoming a collegiate sport.

 
How do you train refs?
 
Pickleball is a self-officiated sport. Even if we offered tournaments and leagues, players would make calls on their side of the net, similar to tennis.
 
 
Is the equipment expensive? 
 
Pickleball is a relatively inexpensive sport with the net, balls, and paddles. The paddles have a wide cost range as there are intro paddles and very expensive paddles.
 

Do you have to be fit to play?

Pickleball can be enjoyed by anyone who wants to get out and move. Players move up to about 12 feet to get the ball, so it’s not sprinting or long distance. Since we have a limited number of courts in the gyms, most of the time we play doubles.

 

Do you need a court to practice? 

We play pickleball in rec centers on the gym floor with tape or painted lines, but I know some who put a net up in their driveway. We plan to expand play opportunities to more recreation centers after Labor Day. We are also hoping for outdoor courts that will allow the pickleball community more opportunities to play.

 

For a list of expanded pickleball opportunities, check knoxvilleathletics.com for updates.

 
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