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On The Court With Pickleball’s Coach To The Stars

On The Court With Pickleball’s Coach To The Stars

  • Find out why Matt Manasse’s serious athleticism and irresistible charm have made him the go-to guy turning Hollywood’s heavy hitters into great players.

On a blue-sky morning at the posh Riviera Country Club in LA’s Pacific Palisades neighborhood, the serenity is broken only by the sounds of the landscapers grooming the pristine grounds and a man’s voice—part coach, part stand-up comic, part therapist—emerging from one of the pickleball courts:

TOP AND SHORTS BY MUNICIPAL.

“Stay square.”

“Use your legs, please.”

“A dink is not a shot. It’s a push.”

“Good speedup.”

“Go, go, go!”

It’s Matthew Manasse, wearing his trademark megawatt grin and a “Pickle Angeles” cap as he fires sharp shots and equally sharp commentary at his two clients, Peri Arenas and Romi Lassally.

TOP AND SHORTS BY MUNICIPAL.

“Stay square.”

“Use your legs, please.”

“A dink is not a shot. It’s a push.”

“Good speedup.”

“Go, go, go!”

It’s Matthew Manasse, wearing his trademark megawatt grin and a “Pickle Angeles” cap as he fires sharp shots and equally sharp commentary at his two clients, Peri Arenas and Romi Lassally.

MANASSE COACHES A HOLLYWOOD WHO’S WHO AND EVEN SCORED AN INVITE TO THE BUSH COMPOUND IN MAINE.

Like the nationally ranked pro that he is, Manasse returns over-the-shoulder shots like legendary center fielder Willie Mays and makes Superman-worthy returns (sometimes between his legs), all the while keeping up a running barrage of tips and quips. “Full court or skinny?” he asks Arenas before a one-on-one drill.

“I get full court—you get skinny,” she replies, laughing.

The play is fast-paced but lighthearted. “If there’s not tremendous laughter, we haven’t succeeded,” Lassally says.

That blend of charm, athleticism, and impressive coaching ability has earned Manasse a client list that includes Larry David, Matthew Perry, Brie Larson, producer Brian Grazer, and legendary agent and businessman Ari Emanuel—and led him to become known unofficially as the “pickleball coach to the stars.” It even earned him an invite to Kennebunkport, Maine, for a training session with, among others, quarterback Drew Brees and members of the Bush clan, including W (who called Manasse “one hell of a player”). And now he’s part of the team behind Stephen Colbert’s upcoming star-studded tourney special, Pickled.

TOP AND SHORTS BY MUNICIPAL.

Manasse’s path to pickleball fame seems as natural as his backhand: The 34-year-old Erie, Pennsylvania, native began playing tennis at age 5, going on to play the game at USC and Purdue. After graduation, he worked for the prestigious French racket and paddle company Babolat before returning to the court to coach women’s tennis at UW-Madison, Oklahoma State, and Duke and then on the women’s tour.

PICKLEBALL “IS JUST SO STRATEGIC, THE PERFECT COMBO OF PHYSICAL AND MENTAL.”

—MATTHEW MANASSE

In spring 2020, with pro tournaments being canceled because of Covid-19, Manasse returned home to Erie, where he discovered his old tennis buddies playing pickleball. “I had no clue about the strategy, techniques, or even the rules,” he says. “But when a 60-year-old guy beat me, I was like, What the heck? It made me want to be competitive at something again.”

And he loved the game right away. “It brought everyone together,” he recalls. “It was a cool, fun, social, athletic experience every time…. It’s just so strategic, the perfect combo of physical and mental.” So Manasse went all in, converting the family tennis court for pickleball. “I went to Lowe’s in 30-degree weather in mid-March, got some duct tape, measured the lines, and made a court using a quick-start net, which I set up on cinder blocks. Then it was off to the races—2020 turned into a pickleball summer.”

TOP AND SHORTS BY MUNICIPAL. SOCKS BY LASSO.

Whether because of his tennis background or his naturally quick hands and feet, Manasse got good—really good—really fast. He was soon seen as the best player in town, scoring an invitation to compete in a pro event in Newport Beach, California—as well as an offer to train in Florida with the likes of Simone Jardim and Ben Johns. “I got to learn from the No. 1 guy in the world, which was cool,” says Manasse.

Already a self-proclaimed pickleball junkie, Manasse flew to California and ended up playing against several of the sport’s top players, earning the moniker “Pickleball McNasty.” He also immediately landed his first Tinseltown connection, playing with Doug Ellin, creator of Entourage, his all-time favorite show. “I thought, Holy cow, one week in California, and I’m already getting invited into these crazy private neighborhoods.”

After the Riviera Country Club asked him to give a couple of free clinics, the pickle-gates opened. Suddenly, thanks to Manasse, the Riv had the hottest pickleball program in LA. “I had credibility because I have a high-level tennis background, and I’ve coached at the best universities, on tour with two top-50 players, and at every single Grand Slam,” says Manasse. Just as important, he was able to translate his experience into coaching a wide range of abilities—and make it joyful. “I want clients to have fun and get a good workout, but also get better,” he says. “If I do, then they’re going to leave happy.”

TOP AND SHORTS BY MUNICIPAL. SOCKS BY LASSO.

Boy, do they ever. Clients have a lot to say about Coach Matt’s star quality: “He’s adorable—a great guy,” says Jill K., a regular client who has been training with Manasse for six months. “He’s really, really easy to work with and talk to, he’s very patient and easygoing, but every time we’re together I learn something new.”

“I have never met a person who doesn’t love Matt, and he has all different types of clients, from celebrities to businesspeople to housewives,” adds another client, Gayle Ezralow. “He’s a great player and makes you work hard, but he’ll poke fun at you, too. He has the ability to make you laugh at yourself, but you’re never offended by him.” (Manasse is a guy who can even make scores sound funny: When he calls out the score “4-1-1” with a favorite client, for example, he likes to kid that it fits her because she’s social “and needs all the info.”)

WHAT’S NEXT? ADVISING ON A TV SPECIAL AND DOING ON-AIR COMMENTARY FOR GAMES.

“He’s easy-breezy, and he keeps it really fun but really challenging,” says Jennifer Utley, whose 10-year-old son, Benjamin, is coached by Manasse. Besides which, Coach Matthew is a great connector of people. “Because of his personality, he’s created this real group at the clubs and private homes he teaches at, and he has this young, cool energy.”

Now that Manasse has won his clients’ love, has scored an advising role on Colbert’s TV special, and will soon be commentating on professional games, he’s suddenly at the center of the growing pickleball universe in Hollywood. “Pickleball has been a life changer for me, and I’m grateful to be in a position to positively impact people,” he says. “I love what I do and I’m motivated to take this sport to new heights. Whether it’s in a commentary booth or on a court, I know I’ll have a blast.”

The score on Manasse himself? Aces all the way.


COACH MATTHEW’S FAVORITE QUIPS

THE BALL DOESN’T LIE

“I say this when a team loses a point after making a controversial line call—because the ball somehow has a conscience of its own and will end up doing the right thing in the end.”

DOWN THE MIDDLE SOLVES THE RIDDLE

“I stole this from my tennis coach in Erie— it’s what she said in doubles when a ball went through the middle as a winner. It applies so well to doubles pickleball, because the middle often gets crowded and confused.”

COUPLES THERAPY

“When two teammates don’t communicate well and make an error, I tell them, ‘You have to be in sync with your partner.’”

STUCK IN MUD!

“When someone misses a ball, it’s often because they didn’t move their feet at all. I try to make that funny.”

SHOE BAG!

“A body bag is when you hit someone in the body with the ball. It’s funny when the ball hits someone in the shoe, so I call it a shoe bag.”

REMEMBER LITTLE TIMMY

“If you’re dinking properly, it should be like a gentle toss of a ball to a child. So when dinking, remember to be more gentle and use the shoulder as the hinge, not the wrist.”

NO STRINGS ATTACHED

“In tennis, you can manipulate balls with the strings, so a lot of tennis players try to do the same thing on the pickleball court— but paddles don’t have strings. You can wish it all you want, but they’re not there!”

STAY OUT OF THE KITCHEN—THE LIVING ROOM’S JUST FINE

“This one’s obvious. I say it when a player keeps drifting into the kitchen when he shouldn’t.”

WE’RE NOT KILLING FLIES

“When players swat at balls, I tell them to use their shoulder and body together so the paddle goes through the ball.”

SOMETIMES GREAT BEATS GOOD

“When someone comes up with a better shot than an already impressive shot, I like to say this. My clients say it sounds stupid—but that doesn’t stop them from laughing!”

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