Running a Facebook group for Philly-area pickleball beginners is almost a part-time job for Hannah Rose Nussbaum.
The Haverford, Pa., resident is one of a small cohort of experts who’ve established themselves as the go-tos of the local pickleball scene, helping introduce Philadelphians to the country’s fastest-growing (albeit very noisy) sport — and cultivate a community while doing it.
Nussbaum’s FB group, like a few others that cater to the region, attracts people of various skill levels and ages. They’re looking for the best courts, seeking tournament opportunities, trading skill tips, and looking for playing partners, even if just visiting for the weekend.
The groups have been helpful, said Collin Kure, a 25-year-old from Queen Village who was playing pickleball Sunday afternoon at Seger Park in Center City.
“The people that play at Seger Park make it really approachable, they help teach you, it’s pretty encouraging,” Kure said. “And I think it’s great to see so many people out here learning and getting active outside.”
The hunger for info about the tennis-meets-ping-pong-meets-badminton pastime is unsurprising, given that it has seemingly infiltrated all levels of American pop culture. Barbie is shopping for pickleball gear. “Dear Abby” is answering questions about player hookups. Even Elmo wants in on the fun. Last year, it was one of the most popular Google searches in Philly.
Pickleball is not new, having been invented in 1965 by an inventive Washington state dad looking for a game to keep the whole family amused. But it’s only recently exploded into the mainstream. More than 36 million people were playing across the U.S. in 2022, per the Association of Pickleball Professionals, nearly double the year prior.
This has catalyzed the development of new courts in the Philadelphia area. Malvern’s Bounce opened in May as the region’s first dedicated indoor facility. There’s reportedly another one planned for South Philly, in the former Hoa Binh Plaza at 16th and Washington. And some existing courts can also be easily repurposed to suit the new game by drawing boundary lines or bringing your own net.
Philly’s pickleball scene is “chill,” with no pressure to be competitive, said Michelle Ruiz, 33, a teacher in Delaware County who was playing at Seger Park.
Some holdouts see the sport as an invasion that encroaches on city neighborhoods with its extremely loud popping sound. Last year there was a movement to soundproof outdoor courts in Chestnut Hill, after neighbors complained so much about the noise it became a news story. Pickleball can also take a toll on a player’s wrists, legs, and shoulders.
Nevertheless, the sport is rapidly spreading through Philly, one paddle at a time. For anyone who wants to join up or know more, three experts are helping lead the way.
Braden Keith, 36
Owner of SwimSwam.com, an aquatic sport publication, Braden Keith helps maintain a total of nine pickleball groups across the U.S., including a national pickleball page.
His local group, called “Philadelphia Pickleball,” is public, meaning anyone can drop in and post for the group’s 2.1k members, who range from people looking to pick it up for the first time to those highly skilled in lob shots and drives.
Recent posts have asked about how to get restarted after an injury, promoted local pickleball clinics, and provided tailored recommendations of where to play, fit to a person’s individual circumstance.
Keith didn’t much like the sport when he first started playing in 2018, he said, but after he and his wife began traveling to and living in different cities, pickleball ended up connecting them to their ever-changing communities. When they moved to Center City, they intentionally chose a home just two blocks from Seger Park, a Philly pickleball hot spot.
Realizing there was no “unified outlet” for enthusiasts in the city, he launched his group in August 2019.
“Just based on my experience, living on the road and playing so many different places,” Keith told Billy Penn, “it kind of felt like something we needed.”
The group has gotten a surge of users in recent years, including others relocating to Philadelphia and hoping to use pickleball as a way to meet people. Keith hopes his group helps people realize that Philly is a friendly place.
“I think we both know a little bit about what the reputation of Philly is nationally,” he said. “But [Philly is] not a closed community. It’s a community that is open to new people, is open to new ideas, open to new friends.”
Hannah Rose Nussbaum, 29
When Nussbaum isn’t working as a program manager at Comcast in Center City, she’s managing her pickleball group on her train ride commute and even on lunch break.
Called “Greater Philly Area Pickleball Beginner Rec Play & Lessons,” it was created in November 2021, and saw an almost immediate surge of interest. With slightly over 800 members so far, the group is intended to foster a community of people just starting their pickleball journey. Alongside matchmaking to find fellow beginners, members use the group to share tips and tricks and promote upcoming tournaments.
“I really hope that it’s easier to find places to play,” Nussbaum told Billy Penn. “That’s kind of the goal of the page, is that you already know where something’s going to happen.”
Pickleball wasn’t on Nussbaum’s radar when she was a basketball player at Franklin & Marshall College. But in Philly one day, while at the basketball courts at the Sporting Club at the Bellevue, she ran into some pickleball players and decided to join them.
She became enamored with the sport’s competitiveness and speed. She created the website Powerhouse Pickle, which offers local lessons and formulated the beginner Facebook group as well as a separate woman-focused page. She’s also now a part-time pickleball coach at Bounce
A key goal throughout it all? Growing the sport to make it more accessible for beginners, especially women.
“I want them to be able to use this as a resource to find their own community and really enjoy who they’re playing with,” Nussbaum said.
Kimberly Kusumoto, 54
A “dink” is a type of pickleball shot, which explains the name behind “Girls Just Wanna Dink,” the Facebook group Kimberly Kusumoto created in collaboration with Nussbaum.
As a mom in Havertown with a full-time corporate job, Kusumoto was looking to develop new hobbies, and views playing pickleball as an outlet for social interaction away from her other responsibilities — an opportunity for “girl talk,” discussing the latest pickleball fashion trends, and cheering on other women for each shot they take.
Kusumoto has served as the FB group’s admin since its creation in April, she told Billy Penn. It aims to advocate for women in pickleball while encouraging social engagement and community building. Women were estimated to make up fewer than 40% of U.S. pickleball players in 2021.
In addition to the normal partner and game requests, the “Girls Just Wanna Dink” members love hyping up fierce action shots of women pickleball players from across the country.
“We’re advocating for women’s pickleball, we’re supporting community play, we’re bringing people in the community together, to have fun together,” Kusumoto said of the group, which has 190+ members.
She has plans to organize tournaments, social events, community work, and even pickleball road trips. She also hopes one day the group becomes a club with branches across the country, and she’s actively looking for other women who want to help move the group forward.
“[Pickleball] helped me in my general feeling about life,” Kusumoto said. “People say it is addictive — it is kind of addictive. Like anything that makes you happy, [that] you kind of gravitate towards, right?”