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Former tennis player embraces rising sport, pickleball


Brown competes in the mixed doubles division, a match with two teams consisting of one female and male team member. At this tournament, her team placed fifth and sparked Brown’s sponsorship with Engaged Pickleball.

photo provided by Alia Brown

 

Junior Alia Brown, a tennis player for seven years, actively strives to play pickleball professionally by competing in various competitions around the country. After the COVID-19 pandemic and back injuries reduced her tennis playing time, Brown accepted her parents’ offer to try pickleball for fun. While differences between tennis and pickleball originally deterred her from fully embracing the sport, Brown eventually grew to love pickleball.


Brown has competed and placed in competitions hosted in many states, including the Paddles at the Plex Tournament in Alabama, the Punta Gorda Open in Florida, the Atlanta Open in Georgia and the Next Gen San Antonio tournament in Texas. At the Next Gen tournament, Brown im​​pressed Engage Pickleball, a sporting goods company. Shortly after, the organization contacted Brown via letter to offer her sponsorship.


“They supply me with all the gear I need, including paddles, t-shirts, visors, and bags,” Brown said. “In exchange, I wear their gear, use their paddles, and tag them on social media…I also have an agent that helps me manage my endorsement deals, media relations, and brand strategies.”


A typical competition follows a tournament style where one player or team is declared the champion of their division. Within each division, players compete against opponents in their skill level, ranging from 2.5 to 5.0. After reaching 5.0, the matches become professional.


Brown plays in all of the divisions: men’s or women’s doubles, mixed doubles and men’s or women’s singles. While similar, each division promotes its own strategy.


“Whether it be singles or doubles, matches usually last for about 30-60 minutes,” Brown said. “Depending on if you win or lose, you could be playing two matches, all the way to six matches in a division.”


In order to perform well at competitions, Brown works with Coaches Chris Wolfe, Mark Price and Sue Johnston. The drills and mock matches help her technique, mental game, and strategies.


“Since pickleball is still kind of new, multiple-player practice sessions and junior academies are not as prevalent,” Brown said. “Instead, I drill one on one with a partner…I have a set list of drills. Whether that be volleys, dinks, forehands or backhands, I always go through them.”


Brown’s dedication to the sport means it takes up much of her time. She practices around 12 hours a week and plays about 11 hours per tournament. Given the other responsibilities in her life, pickleball has strengthened Brown’s time management skills and adaptability.


“Managing school can be very difficult and stressful when managing my busy schedule,” Brown said. “I try to plan out my schedule beforehand and occasionally have to do homework in the car or on the plane.”


Overall, Brown finds pickleball to be rewarding and encourages prospective players to give the sport a try.


“If you are interested in learning to play, I would say go for it,” Brown said. “If you’re learning the game and having fun, that’s all that matters.”


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