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Sarasota pickleball player drafted by National Pickleball League

Kristi Dorman, 55, plays on professional tour for the Indianapolis Drivers.

Sarasota's Kristi Dorman, 55, was drafted by the Indy Drivers of the National Pickleball League.
Sarasota's Kristi Dorman, 55, was drafted by the Indy Drivers of the National Pickleball League.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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Sarasota's Kristi Dorman never thought she would be a professional pickleball player. 

Not when Dorman, 55, first heard of the burgeoning sport four years ago through a tennis friend. Not when she saw her skills improving through repeated play. Not even when she became a Professional Pickleball Registry-certified instructor in November; she could teach others the game, but she was still timid when it came to her own talent. 

Even when Dorman, who is from Indianapolis, Indiana, and played tennis at Ball State University, had a conversation with National Pickleball League co-founder Rick Witsken about the league in 2023, she initially brushed it off. Witsken was an acquaintance from her tennis days and tried to convince her to enter the league's draft for its inaugural season. The NPL touts itself as the first professional pickleball league for players age 50 and older. 

Kristi Dorman said she first started playing pickleball four years ago. Now, she's a professional.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

"I didn't feel like I could be at that level or contribute in any way last year," Dorman said. "But fast forward to this year, I had another conversation with Rick about the league. He encouraged me to throw my hat in the ring." 

Still, Dorman was a bit hesitant. She entered the league's draft but did not attend either of the combine sessions, where the league's coaches got to scout potential draft picks. If a team took a chance on her anyway based on her resume, she'd give it a shot. 

A team did. Her hometown Indy Drivers, the defending league champions.

"I was surprised," Dorman said. "I was thrilled. And thankful, and nervous. All of the emotions." 

Dorman's first professional event was held May 18-19 in Chicago. The NPL holds an event each month at locations across the country, with teams playing four matches over two days. Each of those team matches involves 12 doubles matches, with the team that captures the majority of them winning the overall match. In Chicago, Dorman went 2-4 in her doubles matches — winning two matches with partner Heather Iffert — and the Drivers went 1-3. 

It is just one of five regular season events the NPL has scheduled before its championship weekend Oct. 17-20, at a to-be-announced location. The next stop is June 21-23 in Columbus, Ohio, and matches will be available to stream on the NPL YouTube page

Before the Chicago event, Dorman said she viewed her biggest strength as a willingness to get aggressive. 

"That can probably be good or bad," Dorman said with a laugh. "But I'm confident in hand battles and aggressive play." 

Her biggest concern, like a lot of athletes, is consistency. Dorman said pickleball can often come down to which player makes the crucial error instead of which player hits the winner, a lesson she has learned as she has climbed the sport's ranks and rallies against good competition last longer. 

Dorman said she's on the court in some form six days a week, either giving others instructions or practicing herself. Dorman said she finds herself improving more when she does drills as opposed to playing matches, as drills allow her to focus solely on what she wants to improve. Dorman said she will spend 45 minutes on dinks before moving on to another skill, for example. 

Dorman said she finds it "humbling" to represent Sarasota, as well as Indianapolis, in this way. Dorman never considered that she could become a professional athlete at 55, she said, or even compete at a high level. That the league allows people in her age group to get the competitive juices flowing is a great thing, she said. 

Dorman is hardly the only person who feels this way, and pros from other sports are getting on board. The league added former NFL and University of Florida Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Danny Wuerffel to its ranks this season. He plays for the Denver Iconics. 

Dorman said she has not thought about how fans watching her NPL performance could get others her age to get back on the court, but she's supportive of everyone staying active, no matter their age. 

"I haven't thought of myself as an inspiration," Dorman said. "But you never know how you are going to touch someone's life. I love to teach the game because I get to see the excitement run through other people. There are hundreds of tournaments throughout the country every weekend. The opportunity to compete is there."



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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