Imagine being able to play your favorite sport every day. Now imagine being paid to play your favorite sport every day. Sounds pretty awesome, huh?
Question is, can you make a living as a professional pickleball player?
The answer is yes, it is possible. With pickleball’s global popularity reaching new heights, making a career out of playing pickleball is becoming more and more achievable.
But how do you become a professional pickleball player, and how much does a pro make?
In this article, we’re going to explore the ways you can become a professional, and give you tips on how to make money from your favorite sport.
We’ll also list some of the current pros and their inspirational advice, and warn you of some of the challenges that you’ll face on the road to your dream.
So, my fellow pickleheads, let’s dive right in, and we’ll make pro pickleball players of you in no time!
How to become a professional pickleball player: 9 keys to success
First off, let’s look at how you achieve the title of “pro pickleball player”.
Your pickleball rating is a gauge of how good you are at the game. You can give yourself a rating by following the USAPA guidelines and being honest with yourself.
However, if you’re serious about going professional then there are two rating systems that you can use to track your real pickleball rating.
This pickleball player rating system is based on your previous performance in official, USAPA-sanctioned tournaments. It ranges from 0.000 to 6.999. Pros will have a rating of 6.0 and over.
This is a more modern system of pickleball player rating, devised by Steve Kuhn, the owner of Dreamland, an awesome pickleball-based entertainment center near Austin, Texas.
In this system, a player can self-report their own wins and losses in any matches they play, as long as one other player verifies the result.
This means that every match you play is counted towards your pickleball player rating, even though you might never play an official tournament. Your DUPR rating ranges from 2.000 to 8.000.
Attend coaching clinics and workshops
Practice is key, but to really fine-tune your pickleball skill level, it pays to listen to the experts.
Coaching clinics can zero in on small aspects of the game that make the difference between a great player and a genuine pro.
Hire a pickleball coach
There’s no point in spending endless hours on the courts if you’re not focusing your practice on the areas that need it the most.
A pickleball coach will be able to assess all aspects of your game and give you a personalized plan to improve your skills. They can point out your strengths and weaknesses, and dedicate their time and experience to upping your performance where it matters the most.
Join a pickleball club
This is an obvious piece of advice, but something that is absolutely key on your road to becoming a professional pickleball player.
Being part of a club has a whole range of benefits, from access to coaches and competitors to the opportunity to network and play in tournaments.
There’s power in numbers—use that power to propel your professional pickleball career.
Watch professional players
Monkey see, monkey do. By watching professionals play and studying how they perform at the top level, you’ll learn a ton about how to achieve pro status yourself.
Watching pros in action will also give you a realistic outlook of how good you really have to be to reach their ranks.
We’re gonna include a list of the top ten professionals in the world later on in this article, and see what they have to say about turning pro.
Play against players better than you
There’s nothing better than a stiff competition to bring out the best in your game. Sure, it’s nice to win all the time, but if you’re dominating your opponents every match then you’re not pushing yourself or learning new skills.
Playing against someone miles better than you can knock your confidence too. Try to find components that can really test your skills, and when you eventually beat them the feeling of achievement will be second to none.
Play in tournaments
Professional pickleball players have gotten where they are by winning tournaments. To win tournaments, you need to play in them, so the more you play the more real-life experience you get.
Sign up for all the tournaments you can, the competitive court time will do wonders for your game. Check out pickleballtournaments.com and find an event near you now.
Practice, practice, practice
“If you don’t practice you don’t deserve to win” said plain-speaking tennis star Andre Agassi, and we thoroughly agree. The first and foremost way to improve your skills is to get out there and play pickleball.
Put in the hours whenever you can. Using a pickleball machine, or other home-training devices will allow you to put in the hours when your competitors are taking a break.
Improve your weaknesses
Real pickleball professionals aren’t just naturally gifted, they’ve also put in a huge amount of hard work.
It’s much easier to rely on your strengths than to focus on where your game is lacking. However, to become a professional pickleball player, you’re going to have to face your fears head-on.
A good coach will pinpoint your weaknesses and teach you how to overcome them. Another great tip is to film yourself playing and then rewatch the footage to identify the areas that need improvement.
How do I find competitive pickleball tournaments?
We’ve already advised that tournament play is a great way to improve your skills and advance your path to pickleball professionalism. But how do you find pickleball tournaments to compete in?
The USAPA has an awesome online resource that lists all of their approved tournaments across the United States. To sign up for these tournaments check out their website and follow the instructions for registration.
Pickleballtournaments.com is another huge directory of pickleball events happening around the country throughout the year.
Can you make a living playing pickleball professionally?
We’ve gone over how to become a pickleball professional, so now let’s move on to the really interesting part—the money!!
How much does a professional pickleball player actually make? Taking all earnings into account, a professional pickleball player can make about $50,000 to $200,000 per year.
Let’s break that down…
A lot of pro pickleball players' earnings come from sponsorship deals, with some players banking up to $80,000 a year from this alone. This will include earnings from product endorsements too, where a player appears in an ad for a brand.
Winning tournaments can also be lucrative, but won’t make up the majority cut of a player’s earnings. Ben Johns, for example, has won a total of about $150,000 in his 5 year career, so roughly $30,000 a year.
A large chunk of a professional pickleball player’s earnings come from good old-fashioned work, usually in coaching, lessons, and clinics. Many pros dedicate a lot of their time outside of tournaments to teaching others to play pickleball, and they can earn well from doing so.
Despite the fact that pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America, it has yet to really break into the mainstream. For example, pickleball is not yet an Olympic sport. We wrote a whole article about when pickleball will become an Olympic sport, if you’re interested.
In it, we explain whether pickleball has a chance of being included in the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Once pickleball goes Olympics, it will bring the sport to a whole new level of global recognition. When that happens, the earnings for a pro should significantly increase.
The challenges of becoming a professional pickleball player
Make no mistake, becoming a professional sports player is a long and complicated process. We don’t want to put you off the idea, but it’s important to be realistic!
Aside from actually becoming good enough to join the top rankings, there are some financial factors to take into account.
Firstly, you’ll need to employ a coach. As we explained above, this is crucial if you want to reach the level of a professional. Coaches don’t have to be mega-expensive, but they do cost money.
Secondly, you’ve got to factor in the price of entering tournaments, which runs from $50 to $100 per event. If you’re playing in a few tournaments a month, this cost can mount up, but once you start winning, it will be well worth the investment!
Once you’ve registered for the tournament, you’ve got to get there. Keep your travel costs in mind too. These can quickly mount up when you factor in hotel stays and transport.
Best pickleball players
So you wanna be a pro? Well, you better know your competition. Here are the current top ten pickleball players in the world.
Top 10 pickleball players in the world: men
|1||Zane Navratil||JW Johnson|
|2||JW Johnson||Riley Newman|
|3||Tyson McGuffin||Ben Johns|
|4||Ben Johns||Matt Wright|
|5||Federico Staksrud||Dekel Bar|
|6||Jay Devilliers||Collin Johns|
|7||John Cincola||Dylan Frazier|
|8||James Ignatowich||AJ Koller|
|9||Dylan Frazier||Tyson McGuffin|
|10||Frank Anthony Davis||Adam Stone|
Top 10 pickleball players in the world: women
|1||Anna Leigh Waters||Catherine Parenteau|
|2||Catherine Parenteau||Andrea Koop|
|3||Lea Jansen||Lea Jansen|
|4||Jorja Johnson||Simone Jardim|
|5||Anna Bright||Jessi Irvine|
|6||Salome Devidze||Lauren Stratman|
|7||Parris Todd||Anna Leigh Waters|
|8||Irina Tereschenko||Leigh Waters|
|9||Callie Smith||Callie Smith|
|10||Megan Fudge||Vivienne David|
Inspiration from professional players
When you’re trying to figure out how to become a professional pickleball player, who better to ask than the pros themselves?!
Here are a few inspirational quotes from some of the top-rated pickleball players in the world to really fire up your ambition!
“Play as many tournaments as possible… I highly suggest players to play as many as they can to gain experience and get better quicker” - Catherine Parenteau (Source)
“If you dream of becoming a pro-Pickleball player, become the student of the game, recognize different styles of play, and try to define and develop your own style. Also, invest time in understanding the pro tours and selecting a schedule that fits your goals and budget” - Irina Tereschenko (Source)
"Drill, drill, drill. Nobody became a professional tennis player by just playing matches. Plain and simple." - Zane Navratil (Source)
“Find positivity not only in the good moments but in the bad low moments." - Frank Davis (Source)
"Do NOT listen to negativity; you don't need it! Believe in your dream and do everything possible to accomplish it.” - Jocelyn Devilliers (Source)
What is the APPs vs PPA?
Before we tackle some frequently asked questions, there’s something that’s important to clarify. In pickleball, there are two very similar acronyms that you will regularly encounter—the APP and PPA.
The first is the Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP) and the second is the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA).
They are both professional pickleball tournament tours with cash prize payouts and both were launched in 2020. However, there are some important differences between the two.
The APP requires players to hold an active USAPA membership to compete. The PPA does not.
The PPA has significantly better cash prizes, ranging from $30,000 to $150,000, compared to $25,000 to $75,000 in the APP. The PPA also appears on TV, and on ESPN3, whereas the PPA events are live-streamed on their social media.
As the costs to play on each tour are similar, it’s really a personal decision which one you choose. There has been some recent controversy between these rival tours in recent years, with the two sides trying to snap up exclusivity deals with the best players, so do your research before your swear your allegiance!
So, my fellow pickleheads, that’s it, our step-by-step breakdown of how to become a professional pickleball player.
We hope we’ve shed some light on the process and given you some encouragement to go out there and pursue your dream! What could be more awesome than getting up each day to head and play pickleball?!
If you have any further questions or comments, drop them in the box below, we’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, practice makes professionals, so get out there onto your local court!