Family Matters

APP Pro Susannah Barr and her son, Porter, share, among other things, a love of pickleball.

Written by
Deborah Lew
October 20, 2023
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Family Matters

In 2017 something happened to Susannah Barr that rarely, if ever, happens to Susannah Barr.

She got bored.

Her son, Porter, was 10 at the time, and with Porter being homeschooled, the two felt like they needed an activity to partake in outside the house. They came across some information about pickleball on Facebook and decided they wanted to play. A quick Google search revealed that pickleball was being played at the local YMCA, so they bought some inexpensive paddles on Amazon, hopped in the car, watched a quick pickleball tutorial on YouTube from said car, and started playing that day.

2017: The first day of pickleball for Susannah and Porter

Three months later they played their first local pickleball tournament in the mixed doubles event. They won a couple of games but nothing more. After a year of playing off and on for fun Susannah entered her first big tournament, and it was at this point that she got hooked on competing, and her competitive pickleball career began.

Fast forward to present day, and Susannah, in addition to an abundance of pickleball coaching commitments, is easily one of the most recognizable pros on the APP Tour, having amassed 20 medals in 2023 - including nine golds - going into the APP Houston Open.

Porter has also been keeping himself busy. Now 16, Porter is a full-time college student, a certified pickleball coach, and dabbles in photography and videography. His goal is to one day play on the professional pickleball circuit, just like his mom.

“As both a coach and a mom I honestly think he has the skills to be one of the best players in the world. It’s just a matter of how much time he wants to commit to it,” says Susannah.

They’ve come a long way since that first day with the YouTube how-to video, and although they are both high-level pickleball pros, things get interesting when Susannah and Porter step onto the court together.

“We did play one pro tournament last year in Sacramento. It did not go as well as we would have liked,” Susannah laughs, choosing her words carefully. “We’re too close. I think Porter maybe puts too much pressure on himself and he’s always frustrated when I make a mistake. I don’t think it’s like this anymore, but a year ago he’d be like ‘you don’t make these mistakes with other people!’ and I’m like ‘yes I do, I make mistakes all the time, I’m not perfect!’ But it’s kind of funny that he expects me to be perfect.”

Porter clarifies his perspective on playing with his mom: “There’s some pressure on you when she’s a much more well-known player and so I will sometimes feel like I have to overcompensate and try extra hard and that will stress me out and I’ll just play worse from that.”

As challenging as it is for both of them to play together, competing against one another is even more intense. So in situations where they are both competing in a tournament, such as the APP Sunmed Atlanta Metro Open, the idea that they’re both in the mixed pro doubles draw is enough to cause some anxiety.

“Competing against each other is difficult to say the least. I get very stressed out when I’m playing her. She’s a very competitive person and she will try to destroy me in anything from board games to pickleball, so it’s something that when I’m out on the court against her I’m having to try 100 percent of the time, and it can be fun, but it’s also just a weird experience,” explains Porter, who believes his relationship with his mom has only gotten stronger because of pickleball.

Adds Susannah: “The hard part is I don’t like competing against him. We’re both in the mixed pro draw, right? It makes me a little nervous. We’ve only competed against each other in a tournament one time and it was very stressful. [Playing together is] basically the lesser of two evils. That’s tough, it’s tough to play against your kid.”

According to Porter, they do have one successful pickleball relationship though, and that’s as coach and player. Susannah will often coach Porter, which Porter does appreciate.

“She is a very good coach. She’s taught not just pickleball, but English as a professor beforehand, so she’s very good at teaching and noticing these small details that can help someone improve,” reveals Porter, who is proud of his mom’s professional pickleball accomplishments. “She does a great job at giving me advice when I’m playing on the court if I need to take a timeout or something…she’s just very supportive in general.”

There is one thing that Porter would criticize about his mom if he could. He hates it when he makes a mistake and her reaction is on display for all to bear witness.

“If I make an error, she will audibly groan,” complains Porter, imitating the sound Susannah makes. “She will noticeably cringe at my mistake and I will notice that from the sidelines and I’m like, ‘Mom, come on!”

Susannah is the first to admit that walking the fine line between parent and coach has been a struggle for her.

“I think that has been our biggest challenge. People say to both Porter and me ‘you’ve got a really great coach with your mom’ and it doesn’t work that way. I need to be his mom, not his coach,” elaborates Susannah, who believes pickleball is unique in the sense that the youth don’t have teams or coaches. “My advice would be if you can, find other kids for your kids to be able to play pickleball with so that you can still be the parent. Be the parent, be the cheerleader, but find that balance between getting too serious as the parent and putting too much pressure.”

Pickleball aside, Susannah and Porter have always had a close relationship and are similar in many ways. Susannah, who has a master’s degree in teaching English as a second language, homeschooled Porter up until he began college, which meant a lot of time spent together. Field trips and adventures were plentiful when Porter was younger, and now that he’s older he enjoys dining out with mom and her friends, and because Porter travels to about a dozen or so tournaments each year, they have the pro pickleball community in common. Personality wise, they are both competitive by nature, and have a considerable amount of energy to expend.

“She’s always driven me to try to be my best at stuff that I care about,” says Porter. “I think that has really given me this competitive drive that I try to carry over to most things that I do. I want to perform my best when I can.”

Before pickleball, Porter had a heavy interest in solving Rubik’s Cubes. He picked up the interest after visiting his cousins, who had an app that could assist with quick solutions after uploading a photo. Porter became fixated on Rubik’s Cubes and has collected more than 50 different types, and competed in Rubik’s Cube competitions. His average time to solve the classic three-by-three cube is 15 seconds, but he’s done it in as little as 10. While he doesn’t compete anymore, every once in a while he’ll pick up a Rubik’s Cube as a way to relax himself and occupy his hands, which has been helpful for his ADHD.

“He knows stuff about everything. He reads a lot. He’s very intellectual, and I think that’s where people forget how young he really is,” boasts Susannah about her son. “He’s actually really sensitive and nice…he cares deeply for his friends and he’s a good friend. He’ll take the time to check in on people and he’s friends with a lot of the other Next Gen players.”

The similarities continue as reading is also something Susannah confesses to doing whenever she’s actually at home sitting down and not playing pickleball or doing some other activity like hiking and cycling, both of which she loves. She doesn’t watch much television and she concedes she’s not a napper, which is impressive considering she begins her day around 6:00 a.m. and doesn’t wind down until around 10 o’clock at night. She does enjoy a cup or two of coffee in the morning, but also divulges that she’s not the best at maintaining a healthy diet.

“Sugar does wonderful things,” giggles Susannah, whose dad, like her and Porter, is also a very highly energetic person.

While she isn’t able to solve a Rubik’s Cube, Susannah is also a sucker for solving puzzles, and for her, teaching is just that - a puzzle where the goal is to figure out how to get through to and elevate another person. She loved teaching English for the same reason she loves coaching pickleball - she wants to see people learn and improve.

“Part of being a good teacher is finding what your students need. Everybody is a little different in how they learn and what’s actually going to help them succeed,” Susannah asserts. “Pickleball to me is a big puzzle. You have to learn your opponents, you have to learn how you can beat them, where are their weaknesses, what are their strengths, and then you have to watch the court and figure out where the holes are.”

Although she’d love to get back into teaching English one day, that is going to have to wait, because at the moment, Susannah is on the verge of opening The Flying Pickle, a pickleball club near her home in Boise, Idaho, which will feature 18 indoor pickleball courts. She and her business partner have already sold out of founding memberships and grand opening is scheduled for early November. Susannah will be the pickleball director at the facility and Porter will have a job as a teaching pro. Susannah isn’t planning on allowing her responsibilities with her new club to interfere with her tournament travel.

“I bring my computer with me and a lot of the work I can do from my hotel room. I talked about Porter having a lot of energy, but the reality is I have a lot of energy,” assures Susannah. “When I’m home, I’m pretty much on the pickleball court anyways, so we’ll just be at the pickleball club hanging out most of the time.”

One thing is for certain: she’s not bored anymore.

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