I am The J: Our appropriately named pickleball pro enjoys the ‘chess match’ of the game

We’re excited to introduce to you Steven Claassen — our new pickleball pro here at The J. We caught up with him to learn more about the sport and ask some very personal questions. And don’t hesitate to sign up for one of his popular clinics today (space is limited!).

LJCC: What does it take to become a “pickleball pro”?

While people of all shapes, sizes, and abilities can enjoy pickleball and play it well, Steven Claassen, our new pickleball pro at The J, says being 6’4″ doesn’t hurt.

SC: It takes a lot of practice and love of the game. Being 6’4” doesn’t hurt, either. My “pro” certification rating with the Professional Pickleball Registry required two years of teaching experience, a 4.5+ player rating, and passing a teaching assessment following a training workshop.

What do you most enjoy about the game?

I enjoy the chess match of the game the most — there’s a lot more to the game than first meets the eye. So much strategy and shot variety go into playing at a high level. There’s always a shot you can hit a little better, so it’s easy to keep a fresh drive to improve. 

What makes the sport so popular?

The game is extremely social and there’s a very low barrier of entry for beginner play. It’s also just really fun to hit this silly plastic ball with a paddle in a way that’s hard to understand if you haven’t given it a try.

What’s the best way for people to get started in the sport?

I offer a beginner clinic Thursdays at 4:30 p.m. and Mondays at 9 a.m. With just a clinic or two you can go from never having picked up a paddle to playing something bearing a resemblance to pickleball. Reach out to Kirsten or myself for more information on clinics. 

What’s your approach to teaching the game?

If you want to improve at the game, there’s really no substitute for drilling (practicing shots intentionally) — but that’s not especially fun or more people would do it. My approach in teaching is to make the drilling fun by turning it into a competitive game in itself. I don’t want to focus only on improving a stroke, but also showing how to apply it in a game setting. I aim to make it as enjoyable as open play, but with something to show for it. 

Your last name is so close to the Claussen pickle company. Did that have anything to do with your affinity for the game?

I can tell you I’d have greater affinity if I was heir to a pickle fortune. I won’t burn any bridges for any future marketing opportunities, though.

We’ve heard a rumor that you and your wife met in Israel…

It’s not true! We met in the Atlanta airport while boarding a plane as part of the same tour group heading to Israel. Laura Gail was a friend of the trip organizer from my graduate school program who was tagging along. Seventeen years later, I’m still glad she did. Shortly after the tour, she ended up moving to Jerusalem for nearly a year to volunteer with the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem running the registration for the Feast of the Tabernacles. Toward the end, I flew out there for a surprise proposal that was fortunately well received. On a related note, our middle son’s name is Israel. 

Steven Claassen, second from left, shows proper technique during a recent clinic in the Wood Gym. Learn more and sign up for future clinics here.