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Jon Neeter & Julio Rivera – Inspiring Players at the Santa Monica Pickleball Center

Renowned L.A. Tennis Professionals Jon–a former collegiate coach from Duke University, and Julio–an accomplished tennis coach with over two decades of experience training musicians and actors throughout Hollywood–such as Hilary Swank, and Lindsey Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac, invested half a million dollars into The Santa Monica Pickleball Center. Their visionary leadership inspires players of diverse skill levels and ages to participate in a dynamic and socially enriching sport. 

Pickleball is considered the fastest-growing sport in America. Why do you think it’s becoming so popular, and what impact do you envision your center having on the sport?

Julio:

I think the reason why people are attracted to pickleball is the accessibility. To be able to play, the threshold is very low. People get a chance to do something physical, that doesn’t take a whole lot of acute skill. It allows people of all different ages and abilities to participate together. It’s a great unifier of families and communities. People want to spend time together, and this is an activity that doesn’t demand professional time and commitment to start playing.

Jon: It’s very inclusive and welcoming. When new players join, there’s a culture of “we’re all on the same team.” With other sports like tennis, if you’re at a different level, it’s hard to have fun playing with someone else, but with Pickleball, you can play it on different levels. Part of the culture is socializing.

With the significant investment of half a million dollars into the new facility, what strategic decisions have you made to ensure it offers the best possible experience?

Jon:

We’ve made a complete transition from tennis to pickleball. We’ve moved our tennis facility and equipment to public and private courts on the outside. We’ve created opportunities where people can pay to have their own court, bring their own groups in, whether it’s small groups of people, corporate events, and guarantee that they’re going to get ample playtime when they visit. Unlike public parks, where you might wait around 45 minutes to play a 20-minute game, and then you’re sitting for another 40 minutes to play again. That’s one of the big differences with our center. 

Jamie Fox has his own line of paddles that are sold at your center. Would you be able to speak on your inventory of pickleball equipment and what makes it so excellent? 

Jon:

We have, what we’ve been told is the biggest selection in the country, the largest inventory of a retail specialty shop. The idea was to be a one-stop-shop where you could get virtually everything. You brought up the best paddle, which is the paddle of Jamie Fox and his business partner Taylor Chin, a super popular one around here. We do a big demo program where you can take the paddles out of our shop and test them there. We also do in-store demos on our courts in the back. 

Julio: Jon and I wanted to make a big splash. We understand what’s important to people in this industry. We wanted to make sure that we had everything for everyone, and we wanted to be known as a true authority in the space of pickleball.

What is a core principle or value that you consistently instill in those you teach?

Julio:

If you’re not out here to have some fun, then you’re in the wrong place. The world is serious enough, and there needs to be more of a focus on personal health, and the ability to have a good time. If you allow us a few minutes of your time, we’ll make sure that you have a blast and keep coming back.

Jon:

We have every different kind of client here, so it’s important to be able to accommodate every level. And that’s not an easy task. Julio routinely trains professional players, and up and coming players that will be at the top of the game of pickleball in a year or two time. We’ve had people come in here and never played sports. They feel uncoordinated. We can accommodate that too. To be welcoming and respectful to each different level. Not to treat anybody differently is important to us.

Can you share a pivotal piece of advice that has led you to where you are today?

Jon: A great client of mine helped me financially to get the business started. He said “don’t screw it up” when he loaned me the money 14 years ago. In a service-based business that does quite a lot of volume, you have to be on top of all the details all the time. You can’t let them escape your head. It’s the little things that can set you apart from feeling like a McDonaldized corporate experience. What we don’t want is to lose the mom-and-pop feel and aspect to it that Julio and I have developed, because then you’re just like everybody else.  

Jackie Marson | Contributing Writer

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