It’s played across the US and now the paddle sport, which can be played by eight-year-olds to 80-year-olds, is growing in popularity here, writes Margaret Jennings.
FOUR million play it in America, thousands more in Britain, Europe, India, and Australia — and tennis coach Michael McDaid predicts it will be the fasting-growing sport across the world over the next few years.
Welcome to pickleball, a paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong on a badminton court and which is the new kid on the block for the growing older generation who want to get active and have fun as they age.
While the BMB Active Retirement group in Multyfarnham, Co Westmeath, have been on the ball, so to speak, for the past four years, with ore than 20 regular players turning up at the local centre for games three times a week, the word is spreading about its benefits across the country, with seven clubs in existence.
In September Active Retirement Ireland, the community-based older people’s organisation, which has 24,500 members, endorsed the sport when it held its first pickleball championship at its annual National Bowls Competition and Activity Break event, in Castlebar, Co Mayo.
Spreading the word is 62-year-old Michael McDaid, based in Donegal, who formed the not-for-profit organisation Pickleball Ireland two years ago. At this early stage, it is still a representative body rather than a formal affiliated association; since he is semi-retired, he is travelling around the country in his campervan promoting the sport on request.
Although pickleball was invented in the US in 1965 as a backyard game and has been popular there, with longevity and setting healthier lifestyle goals on our agenda now, perhaps its moment has now come to this side of the world. It suits all ages, from eight to 80, can be played indoors, and at a pace that suits all levels, says McDaid.
“I’m just back from an Active Retirement group in Sligo, introducing them to it and when they started you would know that they hadn’t moved at any pace for years,” he tells Feelgood. “And yet when we finished it, they were all roasted, they were all sweating, they were all laughing, and they said, ‘That was just great craic.’
“Within an hour these people had gone from zero to actually being able to have a rally. As a tennis coach and a player for 40 years, to get someone from zero to a rallying position can take six months to a year.
Ray Clarke, a grandfather of eight from Multyfarnham, won the recent Active Retirement Ireland pickleball tournament with his partner Judith Campbell Ricketts. “Anyone can get into this, even if you haven’t moved for decades and even though some people can be competitive as well, it’s all in good sport. It’s enjoyable and we have a bit of a laugh — it’s fun, it’s social and active for both the body and the mind. I think it’s terrific and there are lots of people older than me who would say the same; that only for it, they would be totally inactive.”
A retired builder and father of four, who is almost 75, Clarke says he goes so regularly that, aside from gardening, it is his main physical activity as well as a social event. “We have a woman of 80 years of age playing and our four courts, which take 16 players, are regularly in use all the time at sessions.”
McDaid’s predicted growth of the game here is based on a practical element also; he guesses that 90% of sports halls across the country have badminton courts, as the lines were drawn as a matter of form when they were built. The investment after that is minimal, involving nets, plastic balls — which have holes in them (like old tennis balls) but are slightly larger than a tennis ball — and the almost weightless paddles which are like large table tennis bats.
The pace at which the ball is hit is much slower, which adds to it being an intergenerational game, he says. “There’s no doubt that every town in Ireland will feature pickleball because it can be played between kids in schools and 80-year-olds. Power and speed and fitness isn’t really an advantage so it’s a great equaliser between the ages.
“You can get an older, experienced pickle-baller and they become a cute player — they know how to minimise their movement on the court; where to be; and how to anticipate and play soft shots. I’ve seen cute older men and women frustrating the hell out of younger players who are blasting the ball back.”
The third Irish National Pickleball Championships take place in April 2019 at Multyfarnham and will attract players from the US, UK, and mainland Europe.
Contact Michael McDaid by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 087 6776304