Player-of-the-Month: Kyle Yates

Former #1 in the World, Kyle Yates, has been playing pickleball since before most people even knew the sport existed. Extremely quick and agile, as well as blessed with lightning-quick hands, Yates is a force to be reckoned with on the pickleball court. He also knows the game like no one else and is helping usher in the next generation of professional athletes through his coaching and mentoring.

1. As a legend in the game, what would you tell an aspiring junior pickleballer who wants to follow in your footsteps?
A “legend,” huh? Is that what they call me? My focus has never been about becoming a legend. I’ve only ever wanted to play pickleball because it’s what I love to do. Life doesn’t always turn out according to plan… but if you’re passionate about something and you put 110% of your heart and soul into it, things have a way of working out for the best. 

2. I know you are really close with your family, who are also connected to pickleball. Can you share a little bit about them?
I may not be the most talented athlete in my family, and I’m certainly not the hardest working! My older sister Sarah, who is both a mother and a nurse practitioner, was a college soccer player, has had 5 ACL surgeries, and still managed to win 2 gold medals at the 5.0 level at the US Open Pickleball Championships. My Uncle Mike, who taught me tennis as a kid and later pickleball, suffered a stroke a couple years ago and is now partially blind, yet still competes in pickleball tournaments and wins medals. My mom, Julie, was a college gymnast and cheerleader at UK, a professional golfer, and is now one of the top pickleball referees in the world along with my stepdad, Larry Scott. My dad is currently a golf pro who also competed in wrestling, basketball, and football in school. I think I naturally gravitated towards soccer and tennis so I had a better chance of beating him at something! Although he doesn’t play pickleball, I directly attribute some of my pickle skills to our weekend table tennis battles. 

3. What do you think your legacy in pickleball is?
I do believe I was the first “professional” pickleball player ever (first player with a pickleball social media, and first contracted professional player). I was certainly the youngest. I actually sacrificed a college scholarship to the University of Florida to pursue a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live out my childhood dream of being a professional athlete… against the advice and judgement of my parents, my peers, and everyone else. I don’t know what my legacy is exactly, but I certainly feel like I helped open the gate to other players’ opportunities in the sport by establishing pickleball as a respectable full-time career. It was bound to happen eventually, but it’s a great feeling to be a part of history and see so many other people follow in my footsteps to a happier, healthier lifestyle. 

4. Can you tell us something most people don’t know about you?
Despite some of my on-court theatrics, I’m actually quite introverted. I enjoy peace and quiet, and doing things like surfing, reading, drawing/painting, video games, golf, relaxing in a hammock – all things I can do alone. I enjoy the attention when I compete, but in a social setting I’m definitely a lot more reserved. 

5. How have you seen the sport grow and change over the 10 years you’ve been playing?
Oh wow, where do I start? In 2011, there were zero permanent courts to my knowledge. I would go to the local tennis courts, chalk lines, and hang water jugs on the net to lower it, just to be able to play. There were no players my own age playing, so my practice group consisted of 40 and 50 year olds. The National Finals in 2014 consisted of 20 spectators lining up their own folding chairs courtside to watch the match. I and other players would travel from tournament to tournament for zero prize money, just simply for the chance to compete! The best sponsorships back then were a couple free paddles and some t-shirts. It’s been amazing to see how, little by little each year, the scale of things in the sport has gotten bigger and better. 

6. What types of activities do you enjoy off-court?
I like to be outdoors. I’ll go swimming, biking, hiking, etc. If I’m worn-out, I like to relax at home and watch movies or play video games (I’m insane at Battlefield and Fortnite). 

7. Favorite match or moment you’ve had up to this point in pickleball?
My all-time favorite moment in pickleball was winning the U.S. Open with my sister Sarah on Center Court. Being able to compete with her and see how amazing she is despite all the obstacles she’s had to face was so inspiring to me. I just had to win for her. Of course, my mom was in tears watching court-side!

8. What are your plans now with the sport of pickleball ?
I plan on competing as long as possible, but I am also starting to shift my focus into more financially productive aspects of the sport. I am starting the Yates Pickleball Academy and will be teaching a lot more, which I’ve found to be a passion of mine. The only thing I like more than playing pickleball is talking about pickleball! I am also working on building my apparel brand PB1965, which is named after the year that pickleball was founded.

9. Where do you see yourself in 5/10 years?
Hopefully running a successful pickleball facility! My dream is to open up a pickleball/racquet sports club. Sports, especially the smaller niche sports like pickleball, are such a great way to meet people and build friendships. I don’t know where I’d be today without the hundreds of hours I spent practicing tennis and pickleball.

10. You have a history of being a bit temperamental on court. Do you agree? 
I’m aware that I’m known for being a bit boisterous on the court occasionally. I have received a lot of criticism over the years for some of my outbursts (rightfully so). John McEnroe once said “everything in me gets left out there on that court… and none of you understand because none of you do it.” What most people don’t understand is the pressure I used to put on myself to go out there and perform over and over. If I failed, I felt that I would have had to quit pickleball and go back to college. I had so many people tell me that I was wasting my time with pickleball and that I should be in school instead. I wanted to be successful more than anything in the world. I wanted to prove everybody wrong. I’m not more talented nor a better athlete than my opponents, I just wanted to win more than them. That drive, that motivation, breeds intensity and at times, I would burst under the pressure. I’m not always proud of how I have acted on court, but my behavior certainly doesn’t represent me as a person. I feel like I’ve grown a lot over the years, and I no longer feel like I have anything else to prove to myself, nor anyone else. 

Related Stories

All Articles

Leave a comment