The ‘First Family’ of Professional Pickleball (2024)

Given the explosive growth of pickleball in the United States, it was only a matter of time before a professional tour was established to take the sport to the next level. Buoyed by a nucleus of the world’s best talent, the Professional Pickleball Association’s fledgling PPA Tour has in a few short years become the epicenter of competitive pickleball, and siblings Ben, Collin, and Hannah Johns have established themselves as the face(s) of that Tour – Hannah as a sideline reporter-turned-front office executive, and Ben and Collin as two of the sport’s premier players.

The three siblings are the oldest of seven children (five girls, two boys) who grew up on their family’s 12-acre parcel in Laytonsville, where they were all home-schooled by their mother. Academics were always the priority in the Johns household, but all of the siblings were active in the community and excelled at sports from an early age, especially those involving a racquet or paddle.

To encourage his children’s passion for sports, their father built a dirt tennis court on the family’s property and fashioned makeshift practice facilities in a barn where they could drill and practice their serves. Collin, the oldest (now 29), devoted himself to tennis from an early age, training at the elite Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md. Ben, although five years younger, became his de facto training partner, and the two often practiced and competed together. On weekends, the tight-knit family would pile into the car and travel en masse to support Collin at his junior tournaments. Like her brothers, Hannah, now 26, was also active. “I have so many good memories of growing up there,” she remembers. “It was so much fun.”

Home-schooling gave the Johns family the flexibility to travel and they eventually bought a house near Naples, Florida, where they would spend several months each winter. It was there, in 2016, that Ben first tried pickleball and he was instantly hooked. Within a few months, he was competing in local tournaments, and, on a lark, he entered that year’s U.S. Open Pickleball Championships. Despite modest expectations, he ended up taking fifth place in the Men’s Pro Singles division.

That year, he doubled down on his training. Back home in Laytonsville, the family painted a crude court onto the driveway so they could play year-round, though Ben was the only one who really took it seriously. The following year, he returned to the U.S. Open and won the whole thing. A star was born!

In 2019, the first year of the upstart PPA Tour, Ben made history as the first men’s player ever to win the triple crown (Gold in Singles, Men’s Doubles, and Mixed Doubles) at the prestigious Tournament of Champions. That same year, he racked up 108 consecutive singles victories and was undefeated in mixed doubles in 22 straight tournaments. His dominance was punctuated with triple crowns at the 2021 and 2022 U.S. Opens, propelling him to the very top of the sport.

While Ben was making a name for himself on the pickleball court, Collin had been living out his own dreams, traveling the world and competing on the professional tennis circuit. When he retired after six years of competition to focus on coaching, Ben encouraged him to pick up a paddle. At first reluctant, he eventually began playing with some other tennis players who had crossed over, occasionally pairing up with Ben in doubles at professional tournaments. As Collin improved, they played together more often, eventually establishing themselves as a lethal duo. “He phased me in,” Collin admits. “I had to prove myself.”

Hannah, meanwhile, having graduated from the University of Maryland’s Global Campus with an English degree, was working as the director of a private school system in the Czech Republic. She loved living in Prague, but when COVID hit, and schools everywhere shut down, she returned home to Laytonsville to be closer to the family.

The pandemic gave her the chance to reflect and ponder her next move. At her brothers’ suggestion, Hannah was invited to audition as the on-camera sideline reporter for the Tour. Bubbly and energetic, she was a natural at it, and the Tour brought her on full-time. Given her brothers’ successes, there were lots of opportunities for the siblings to connect on-camera for post-match interviews and their easy banter and constant jousting made for great theater.

Hannah’s responsibilities expanded quickly and she soon became the Tour’s liaison with sponsors, players, and the media. Leveraging her love of English, she also wrote articles and other content for the Tour’s website. Today, she has oversight of all of the Tour’s communications, PR, and media relations. “It’s a heavy schedule,” she admits, “but until this year we still considered ourselves a start-up, so everyone is happy to do everything we can cross-functionally to make the Tour a success.”

In order to cut down on travel, Ben and Collin relocated to Austin, Texas in 2021, where the warmer weather enabled them to practice outside year-round. “The barbecue’s better there, too,” Colin admits. Last year, Hannah followed suit, and she and the boys now live just a few blocks apart.

As the PPA Tour continues to grow and mature, the Johns brothers continue to dominate on-court. Ben, now generally considered the best to ever play the game, is ranked #1 in the world in singles. He and Collin are the top-ranked men’s doubles team, but it’s Collin who sits alone at the top of the pile as the top-ranked men’s doubles player in the world.

Despite their success on the court, the brothers have inevitably started to think about life after pickleball. They are partners in Pickleball 360, an online instructional video subscription service, and Ben is a co-owner of Pickleball Getaways, a boutique travel company. And then there's the cryptocurrency index fund that Ben launched while still in college. And an idea for a new line of paddles. Suffice it to say, the boys have options.

Regardless of their busy schedules and the miles that separate Laytonsville from Austin, the siblings return home often. “We love coming home,” says Hannah. “We spent all of our lives on those 12 acres in Laytonsville. It’s our family home forever.” Ben, thoughtful and articulate, is more to the point, “Family for us is always number one.”

The brothers were in town in May to celebrate Mother’s Day, sleeping in their old beds, and practicing for an upcoming tournament. Inevitably, there were dinners with friends and a ping pong grudge match on the old table in the basem*nt.

Outside, 7-year-old Violet, the youngest of the Johns clan, smashed forehands at her father across the makeshift pickleball court that’s painted onto the driveway. Inspired by the success of her older siblings, she dreams of one day playing pickleball professionally. Or maybe tennis. She’s not sure yet. Either way, she’s likely to need a doubles partner. She’s got Hannah’s number.

The ‘First Family’ of Professional Pickleball (2024)
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