PHOENIX – A sport played on a 20-by-44 foot court with a 36-inch tall net has taken over as the fastest growing sport in the United States. Many tennis players have transitioned to pickleball, including one who made his mark at Scottsdale Community College.
Tyson McGuffin, the fifth-ranked pickleball player in the world.
Nearly one in three pickleball players have played tennis, according to a report by the Sports and Fitness Industry association. McGuffin, a Washington native, came from an athletic background, wrestling during much of his youth, but chose tennis at SCC of instead of accepting a wrestling scholarship at a larger university.
These days he is a five-time Grand Slam champion and an athlete who has landed endorsement deals with Sketchers and Selkirk. Before then, he was a teaching pro at the Yakima Tennis Club in Washington and coached tennis for six years. When he finally transitioned to pickleball, it took just six months to turn professional.
Since that introduction to the sports eight years ago, he hasn’t once looked back.
“I will gladly say that I’m a pickleball junkie,” McGuffin, 33, said. “I have been since 2016. Obviously was a tennis lover back in the day, but that is gone now.”
Connor Garnett, a former Division I tennis player at Santa Clara University turned professional pickleball player, used to attend McGuffin’s camps as a teen in Yakima. He now finds himself training and competing against his mentor.
“Tyson was one of the first people that got me into the sport,” Garnett said. “He was one of the tennis directors at this place that I would go and play at when I was young all the time, so I started playing with him. Ever since then, he’s been giving me some great insight into the game and helping me get to where I am.”
Garnett began playing pickleball at the end of April 2022. Like McGuffin, he started with a different sport, baseball, and learned to bat left-handed, which to this day still helps with his backhand when playing pickleball.
It’s tennis players, however, who seem to find the transition to pickleball a natural one.
“Simply I wasn’t quite good enough in tennis,” McGuffin said. “I’m not over 6 foot. I didn’t have any weapons. My crafty gang style in tennis and the way that I was able to move, I also have a wrestling background, so that inner toughness in me was a perfect formula for the pickleball courts.”
The biggest adjustment from tennis to pickleball, McGuffin said, is just shortening the motions and dumbing the game down.
He’s done that successfully and gets strong support from his wife, Megan, and four children, who often accompany him to events.
“My three pillars as my brand is me as an athlete, me as a dad then me as a coach,” McGuffin said.
“He puts family first,” Garnett said. “He does a great job of that. … He goes about his pickleball and makes sure he brings his family and is included because when you’re traveling as much as we are, it’s sometimes tough to keep connection so he does a really good job of that.”
If McGuffin isn’t competing, playing the role of dad, or coaching, he can be found on his YouTube channel podcast, where he welcomes a wide range of guests, from professional baseball players, professional football players, professional UFC fighters and more.
He recently threw out the first pitch at an Arizona Diamondbacks game when the club hosted a pickleball night.
His was an opportunity he welcomed as he continues to work on bringing more eyes to the sport.