COURTING SUCCESS: With her burgeoning pickleball business, this Fort Worth mom has become a total baller
By Jenny B. Davis
Photography by Rodger Mallison
Allison McKnight was only a few swings into her first pickleball game when she realized the sport was going to be a big hit.
It was mid-2020, and the world was on lockdown. But McKnight was seeing more and more people taking up pickleball, and she understood why.
“It’s easy to learn, easy to play and you can play it in your driveway or in the street,” she says. Plus, people were already familiar with its core concepts because “it’s like tennis and pingpong had a baby.”
As the co-owner of Smashing, the pro shop inside the Bayard H. Friedman Tennis Center at Texas Christian University, McKnight also sensed opportunity.
She began adding pickleball basics to Smashing’s inventory, starting with portable pickleball nets, paddles and the sport’s whifflelike balls. Accessories and clothing came next — Oliver Thomas bags, Taylor Gray paddle covers, separates from Free People, lululemon and Lucky in Love, even pickleball-specific shoes for men and women — and sales soared.
Turns out, McKnight’s prediction about pickleball’s popularity was correct. It’s been America’s fastest-growing sport for the past three years, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, growing nearly 160%, with even more expansion expected.
It wasn’t McKnight’s first time being a trend spotter. After graduating from TCU in 1995, she spent nearly a decade at Pier 1, developing products in response to trends. She later launched her own company, bringing fashionable furniture and home accents from Southeast Asia to wholesale buyers. The global travel and entrepreneur hours were manageable for the married mother of two, but in 2008, she gave birth to twins and decided to step back. “I had four kids under 4, and that made it tough to travel and also keep them alive,” she says with a laugh.
Then came tennis. She’d played competitively in high school but hadn’t touched a racket since. Fast-forward two decades, and one day while she was dropping off her kids for their lessons, she felt an overwhelming urge to play.
“I know myself, and I know that anything I do, I am 100 percent,” she says. Before long, she was fully invested in tennis – “all in,” she says, “24/7.”
When she befriended Linda Cappel, who was then the sole owner of the pro shop, McKnight transformed her passion into a profession. Cappel’s shop was successful, supported by both TCU and the community (the tennis center is open to the public). But Cappel believed it could be bigger, and she invited McKnight to become a co-owner. Together, they rebranded as Smashing, launched the e-commerce site smashingclothing.com and ventured into social media via Facebook and Instagram.
The timing was uncanny.
“Literally the day we launched our website and social was the day we shut down for COVID,” McKnight recalls. Luckily, outdoor tennis continued, and so did Smashing, thanks to sidewalk sales and deliveries. When TCU began adding pickleball courts to the tennis center, it set the ball in motion for Smashing’s business expansion to pay off.
Today, McKnight remains dedicated to Smashing, but she also enjoys organizing fundraisers and other pickleball-centric activities. “Going forward, I’d love to do more with events,” she says, before adding, in true multitasking mom fashion, “but I also have to get some kids graduated.”
What’s in my bag?
McKnight carries an Oliver Thomas bag, a bestseller at Smashing, the pro shop she co-owns inside TCU’s Bayard H. Friedman Tennis Center. “Athletes carry the logoed bags, but women who play pickleball want a bag that’s functional for the court but also fashionable enough to take to lunch,” she says.
- Clutch towel: “It’s like a ShamWow for the court.”
- Gearbox paddle: “This brand is my personal favorite.”
- Aloe Up sunscreen stick
- Lululemon water bottle and visor
- K-Swiss tennis shoes
All items available at Smashing and on smashingclothing.com.
With this trio of on-trend pickleball gear, you’ll be in style from the center line to the transition zone.
Byrdie Golf Social Wear specializes in women’s performance wear that segues from court or course to cocktail hour. Founders Rachelle Wates and Hayden Shoffner, both Charlotte-based entrepreneurs, were inspired by the spirit of their stylish, sporty grandmothers. $150-$230. Byrdiegolfsocial.com
The brrr-eeze Shores Striped Performance Polo Shirt proves that men can be stylish playing pickleball, too. Made from a fabric designed to both cool and wick away moisture, this classic-fit shirt is a flex whether you’re delivering a power shot or a dink. $99.50. Southerntide.com
The Recess + Southern Tide Pickleball Paddle is crafted from fiberglass and other compostable materials and boasts a sweat-proof grip and a sanded texture surface to maximize spin control. Bonus: Each stylish design comes with a corresponding embroidered canvas case. $86. southerntide.com