The APP is home to incredible pickleball players, of all ages and performance levels, who come with a rich range of stories that brought them to the sport we love. In our APP Player Spotlight series, we shine the light on the vast range of pickleball players and give them a platform to tell their own stories. Up next is Utah resident and 2023 APP Next Gen National Team member, Alli Phillips.
APP: Start by telling us where you're from and, and what do you love to do.
Phillips: My name's Alli Phillips. I am from Logan, Utah. And in my free time I love watching movies. I'm kind of a nerd when it comes to movies. I love watching Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Marvel movies, The Avengers and all that. I love spending time with my family, playing games, and just being together. They're my best friends, so being with my family is the most important thing to me.
APP: When and how did you first come into pickleball?
Phillips: When I first got into pickleball, I was a tennis athlete. I was pursuing collegiate tennis, and my dad had some retired friends who were playing a sport called pickleball. They told my dad, “Hey, you need to get into the sport. It's super fun. You guys are tennis players, and this is a sport that you guys will correlate your shots into really easily.” We responded, “We've heard of that, but we're not getting into that.” They kept pestering him about it until he finally agreed to play with them. He tried it out and came back home the next day and said, “Alli, you're going to love this sport. It's super fun and you'd be super good at it.” And I was like, “Oh no, dad, you became one of those guys!”
My dad responded, “Just give it a chance like I did.” So I gave him a chance and we played it together and I got the bug immediately.
I played my first tournament in Star Valley, Wyoming. My sister and I were tennis players, so we were very cocky going into that. We didn't win a single match against much older competition – we got humbled real quick – the humbling that we needed. I decided I couldn't leave my pickleball career like that. So, my dad started coaching me a little bit, I improved, and I started competing from there.
APP: At what point did you decide that you wanted to go professional with pickleball?
Phillips: I've always had a very competitive attitude with sports, which I got from my dad. As I saw myself getting better and better in each tournament, I just recognized that I had a huge potential in this sport. With my competitiveness and that drive, I naturally just wanted to prove how good I could get. So I thought, “Let's just go for it – full send.” And now, here I am traveling around the world to pursue my pickleball dream.
APP: What’s been the highlight of your career at this point?
Phillips: I've had a lot of little highlights leading up to this point. I took the triple gold in the Junior Olympics in Texas two years ago. I also won a singles Nationals title back in 2018. I've had some good wins against a lot of top pros. I won first place out of all the girls at the APP Next Gen Series event in San Antonio – that was a good accomplishment and I obviously have a lot more that I can improve on in my game. I’m working hard to accomplish more.
APP: What are your goals for 2023?
Phillips: I’d like to find that right partner that I can win with. One of the more crucial parts of the sport is that you need to have a partner that you have chemistry with, that you feel comfortable with, that's not going to take your ball when you're playing, and that you both trust each other. I have a lot of new partnerships up for this next year, so I'm hoping that I'll find that right partner for both women's and mixed. The dream is just to start winning big and winning those APP pro gold medals for singles and mixed doubles and women's doubles.
APP: More than 48 million people have tried pickleball. How far do you think this sport can go?
Phillips: What makes pickleball different compared to other sports is if you think about sports that we all grow up with, whether it's football, soccer, tennis, basketball, you name it, there ultimately comes a point where you just can't compete at the same level like you used to. As you see in pickleball, we have the senior pros and we have people like Simone Jardim, who at 40 years old is still competing as one of the best female players in the world. I think the reason why the world has paid more attention to pickleball is because people can play this for so much longer than you can with other sports at a high level, which is really cool. It's just not as hard on people's bodies as well. As a tennis player, it was hard for me to have to cover a full court. As you get older and older, your body can't take that same kind of hard repetitiveness, so I think pickleball’s shorter court is also very complimentary to people who can't move very well as well. So, there are a lot of different reasons the sport can go far.
APP: What would it mean to you to see pickleball in the Olympics and to potentially represent the United States in the sport?
Phillips: That's my dream. The dream for Alli has been to compete in the Olympics ever since I was a little girl. Just seeing the athletes that get to represent their country and wear that gold, silver or bronze medal is the highest honor you could have as an athlete. It’s gotten into the Junior Olympics, so I think it won't take very long, hopefully, for the rest the world to get into pickleball and to get it into the Olympics as soon as possible.
APP: Is there anyone who's helped you along this journey that you couldn't have done it without?
Phillips: My parents are the people that I would like to give a big shoutout to. They've been with me every step of the way. I love you mom and dad! My dad has been my coach for my entire tennis career as well as my pickleball career. He's the one that's been always believing in me even when we have those practices where I'm like, “I'm not sure if I can do this, if I'm strong enough or I'm good enough to do this.” My dad and my mom have always been there to put their arms around me and say, “You've got this and we believe in you. We see your potential.” My mom is just a loving and charitable person. She's always looking out for people at tournaments, and for people who aren't even in our family, she'll be offering snacks and she'll go cheer people on. My parents are the cheerleaders in the background that don't get enough credit, and I love them.
APP: What has the transition to becoming a professional pickleball player been like for you?
Phillips: I often think about this exact point – how far are you willing to dedicate everything that you can into the sport? It's not just the money that you're investing, but it's also your time. It's a full-time job. You have to practice, and when you're not practicing, you're making sure you're eating right, training right, and doing everything that you can, so that when you have these weekends where you're competing, you're on your absolute best level. It's a lot, but it's just like any other thing. Some people are investing their money into their future for college or for their careers. For me, I really love sports and I love the drive that I get through it, so I'm investing into my future as a pro pickleball player. I'm not doing school, I'm investing into pickleball tournaments and training and doing everything that I can to be the best player that I can be.
APP: How did you get involved in the APP?
Phillips: I got really into the APP through the Next Gen program. After one of the Next Gen events that I competed at, I got to be part of a meeting for the junior pros there. I just loved the dedication that they had to the juniors specifically – I loved how much focus they were putting on them and appreciating them and seeing that how it really is the younger generation that's going to build up pickleball and see where the sport goes from here. I really appreciated their level of commitment to the junior pros, and we appreciated that confidence in us.
APP: If you could describe the APP in one word, what would it be?
Phillips: Belief. I think the APP shows a real commitment and belief in their players that maybe aren’t on the front pages of every single high-level tournament. They're not all winning the gold medals, but they still see the potential of people like me and the amazing other players that are trying to make their way into the big leagues. I think that's what people like me need – they need that person who says, “I still believe in you. I have faith in you. I can see you.” You need to kind of have that level of support to keep fueling that drive for your pickleball dreams.
APP: What's been your favorite memory on the APP Tour?
Phillips: Winning first place for the girls at the APP Next Gen San Antonio tournament was a huge honor.
APP: What does pickleball mean to you?
Phillips: Ever since I was a little girl, it’s been my dream to pursue a professional sport and I never would've thought it would be pickleball, but I am loving with what pickleball has offered me. It's given me so many opportunities, so many cool people, and places that I've never thought that I would go travel to. Pickleball has really opened up a lot of opportunities in my life that I am really blessed with, and I hope that other people who get into the sport can receive those same opportunities and blessings like I have.
APP: What's been the biggest challenge of becoming a pro?
Phillips: I think for anyone that's a pro or aspiring to be a pro, your biggest challenge is yourself. That's the one person who will always either tear you down or be your biggest supporter. For some people, like myself, it's a constant battle in your head of, “Do you really believe that you can go the distance? Do you believe that you can go to be a top pro? Do you believe you can be number one?” The mental game is the most underrated part of sports, for pickleball or any other sport.
APP: What advice would you give to your younger self or to young athletes out there who are trying to make it as a professional?
Phillips: I would say you're only limited by what your doubts tell you. I’ve had so many times where I felt like I told myself, “There’s no way you could go this far. There's no way you could do this. You can't beat this person, et cetera.” I turned off that voice and I said, “You know what? No – I will do this. I will be this person who I'm trying to become.” When you overcome that, nothing else matters. Whatever other opinions and thoughts are in your head, those voices won't matter anymore. You're only limited by what you think of yourself.
APP: Switching gears to some rapid-fire questions. Outside of the world of pickleball, who is your dream pickleball partner?
Phillips: Rafa Nadal. He is my favorite player of all time. I’ve loved his fire and his drive on the court ever since I was a little girl. I’ve admired how much he just gave it all on the court and that's who I try to be when I'm on the court as well.
APP: Who's your favorite person in pickleball to play against?
Phillips: My little brother Danny. I know this probably sounds weird to him because I am very competitive with him, but he actually humbles me a lot. He's 12 years old right now, and he's a future prodigy in pickleball. I love seeing how much he just enjoys the sport. He doesn't really necessarily worry about winning or losing, he just thrives through just playing the sport. That goes for all my family members. I just love playing with my family because they help remind me why I do what I do.
APP: Any pre-match music or a song that hypes you up?
Phillips: It depends on the mood. I grew up with a lot of different music, so if I'm wanting more chill music, I actually will listen to instrumental music without any words, so I have clear thoughts. I know some people like more hyped music, but for me I need to be in a more peaceful mindset because the challenge for me is getting my mind into the game. Instrumental or classical music makes me calm and peaceful.
APP: Favorite pre-match snack?
Phillips: Yogurt parfait. You get vanilla yogurt, strawberries, blueberries, a little bit of granola, and mix it up together. It’s beautiful.
APP: Favorite post-match snack?
Phillips: Costa Vida’s Sweet Pork Salad.
APP: Any guilty pleasures?
Phillips: I have a big sweet tooth, so anything sugary. I've got to stay away from it, but it's so hard. I'll eat anything with sugar and anything chocolate covered. Chocolate pretzels, chocolate fruit, chocolate cashews. Chocolate's my weakness.
Alli Phillips and the rest of the APP pros return to action at the 2023 APP Sunmed St. Louis Open, August 9-13 at the Dwight Davis Tennis Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Stay tuned for the next installment of the Player Spotlight series.