COLUMBIA, Mo. (BVM) — Not many 19-year-old college students can say they are also professional athletes. However, for University of Missouri sophomore Dylan Frazier, that is the case.
Frazier is a professional pickleball player who continues to rise in the sport and is currently ranked No. 12 in the World Pickleball Rankings for men’s doubles. His ranking is even more impressive considering he has only played the sport for the past five years.
Growing up, Frazier played all the standard sports of football, basketball, baseball and soccer. But during a 2016 trip to Florida, a new sport caught the eye of the star athlete.
“We were visiting my mom’s parents in Florida and we played at a recreation center there just for fun,” Frazier said. “We actually really liked it, I think we played for three hours that day. We came back to Missouri and just started playing from there. We kept playing each week and started playing tournaments. The rest is history.”
Back home, Frazier began playing with the Show-Me Pickleball Club in Columbia, Missouri. He became more and more intrigued by the fast pace of the sport, as well as the broad age range of competitors within it.
While pickleball is a sport that isn’t the most well-known, it is described by Frazier as a mix of tennis, badminton and table tennis, and requires similar skills and talent.
“It’s commonly described as a cross between badminton, ping pong and tennis,” he said. “The one big thing you need in pickleball is reflexes, and all the other skills needed for tennis like hand-eye coordination and agility. One of my strengths is reflexes at the net.”
Frazier has developed these skills and more with constant repetition and practice. Currently, he plays three times a week while in school, and seven times a week during the summers. He also plays in over 20 tournaments per year, competing in men’s singles, men’s doubles and mixed doubles.
The 19-year-old is not the only one playing frequently either, and he is contributing to the rise in popularity of the sport not only in Missouri, but also across the country.
“When I first started playing the Show-Me state games, I think there were maybe 100 people there,” Frazier noted. “Now, you can see each tournament that happens annually having increased numbers and more people playing every year.”
Many people have taken up the sport through the years, and one of those includes Frazier’s mom, Cindy, who played recreationally in college. Initially, Cindy competed with Dylan, and was actually his mixed doubles partner in his first professional match earlier this year.
“Pickleball has brought us close together and given us something to do as a family,” Dylan explained. “My mom actually played when she was in college and that’s why she had the idea to play when we went to Florida. We started playing tournaments together and grew together. I played my first pro tournament with my mom which was really cool. It’s always a lot of fun playing with her.”
Dylan also receives plenty of support from his father, Shawn, who also plays and actually helped build a pickleball court to practice on in the family’s backyard.
“He plays pickleball and I always tell him he’s the founder of pickleball in Jefferson City because he got the group started there,” Dylan added. “He’ll come to all my tournaments and watch and support. He’ll actually film all my matches too which is really helpful for me and some friends and family back in Missouri are able to watch that way.”
The support Dylan receives doesn’t just stop with his family either. Prior to turning pro, the Fraziers held a launch party for Dylan’s career, raising funds and gaining support from many in the local community.
“That meant a lot,” Dylan said. “The launch party was a great turnout. Over 150 people came and it was really cool and kind of an eye-opener to look around the room and see all these people that I’ve met through pickleball that are now at my launch party supporting me. I’ve got lots of support, I’m very lucky.”
Just five years into playing, Dylan is already a pro. For those who saw his beginnings in the sport, that may come as no surprise.
In his first singles tournament event in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Dylan placed third against professional players.
By 2019, Dylan won a gold medal in junior boys doubles at the U.S. Open. Last year, the pickleball star won a doubles world championship gold and became nationally ranked for the first time.
“I kept playing tournaments and kept getting better,” the Mizzou sophomore said. “It was fun and it was a good experience.”
Now, Dylan is traveling the country competing in numerous tournaments over the past year in over 10 different states, several through the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA).
“This summer, I played a lot of tournaments,” Dylan added. “I had a stretch where I played 13 weekends in a row. That was really beneficial and that’s where I started to see my level of play take off even more.”
Although Dylan continues his studies in accounting at Mizzou, he still will compete in tournaments this fall, with the next event being the Texas Open held in Dallas this weekend.
“My goal right now is to medal in one of those PPA tournaments,” Dylan said. “The PPA tournaments are the biggest tournaments in pickleball and I have yet to medal in one of those tournaments, so that’s the goal.”
While the balance between school and pickleball isn’t always easy, Dylan continues to excel in both, as he was also a 4.0 student in his freshman year. A professional career could await him in the business world, but he doesn’t plan on slowing down his pickleball career anytime soon.
“For me, getting a medal at a PPA tournament would be big,” Dylan said. “If you can get a medal in one of those tournaments, that means you’re doing pretty well. But ultimately, I’d like to believe that I could eventually get to a point where I’m the best in the world. It won’t be easy, but that’s the goal. I’m going to keep practicing and playing all these tournaments against high-level players, and hopefully I can make it there.”
Dylan’s potential in the sport of pickleball remains off the charts. According to USA Pickleball, the average age of a professional player is 41. At just 19, there’s no telling what Dylan could accomplish, but he just wants to continue enjoying what has already been a special ride.
“It’s been awesome, it’s been a great journey and I hope that I can keep getting better,” Dylan concluded. “It’s been really cool to get to play against some of the people that I watched growing up as I was developing as a pickleball player. I’m going to keep playing more tournaments and hopefully I can keep moving up in the rankings.”