Ken’s Barbies

Ken (center) with some “Barbies” he has instructed and helped to improve their pickleball skills.

Debora Witten

Ken Martin grew up in the Boston area where he went to school, met Cindy Martin, married, and had two boys (Aaron and Kyle). After becoming empty nesters, Ken and Cindy moved to Margaritaville Daytona Beach in 2019 where Ken was introduced to pickleball. Ken was immediately hooked by pickleball for the competition, skill, strategy, and friendships that it provides. While at Margaritaville, Ken became a certified instructor through Engage and took an interest in helping people learn and develop their pickleball skills. After a spring trip to Tucson in 2022 to see their son, Aaron, they stumbled upon SaddleBrooke Ranch (SBR). After seeing SBR and all the courts, amenities center, and golf course, Ken and Cindy knew it would be home.

In March 2023, Ken ventured out to the courts to see if anyone was playing and was greeted by Karen Derdzinske and Susie Stultz, who were coordinating a roundrobin play with what they called “The Fun Group,”which is a social style of play with lots of laughs, conversations, and just overall enjoyment. So, Ken joined the group of seven other ladies in some fun play. Ken provided some advice and the ladies appreciated it. Susie stressed the desire to have more instruction and we agreed to use “Team Reach” to help schedule and coordinate play and instruction sessions. At that time the Barbie film was the rage, so she capitalized on that theme and decided to call themselves “Ken’s Barbies,” and so began the group.

Ken wanted to ensure the sessions were fun, competitive, and productive. So he began to bring in some cones and hula hoops to help provide some targets to focus on while practicing shot improvement. Often players would compete for points as they hit the targets, and chocolates would go out to the winners (however, most of the time Ken would give in and everyone would get a piece). Each session would focus on a particular skill set and build upon each other. The sessions were great, word got around, and more and more ladies joined. The group has grown from about 8 to 55, but there are about 24 core members at each session.

Since the start of Ken’s Barbies, 32 sessions have been held and Ken often has to solicit some outside help so he can effectively coach 8 to 12 players at a time. Across the board, all the ladies have improved dramatically in their play and knowledge of pickleball. Last summer many Barbies medaled in an SBR Club tournament, and as a tribute to their dedication and practice to getting better, many are doing well in Arizona Pickleball Players League (APPL) play.

Ken is driven by the friendships, growth, and caring for each other since this all started. This is more than just pickleball, it’s become a family of people who happen to love pickleball. Ken opens up each session with any past announcements or activities and it’s great to hear about the ladies incorporating shots and strategies that worked and helped them win and all getting excited about their accomplishments. As long as the ladies continue to sign up and want to learn, Ken has pledged to be there to help as much as possible.