It’s played by the Clooneys, Leonardo DiCaprio and the Kardashians, can be mastered at any age and is set to be a hit in the UK: So, anyone for a spot of pickleball?
What do you do if someone is in the kitchen and tries a dink shot? Or perhaps a falafel while trying to keep a flat face?
That may read like nonsense. But to the growing numbers of Britons taking up pickleball, it will be very familiar.
And many more of us might be using phrases like these very soon.
Pickleball is a mix of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, using rectangular, solid-faced bats a bit like a beachball bat, and a plastic ball with holes in it.
At 44ft by 22ft, pickleball courts – inside or out – are much smaller than tennis courts, so it doesn’t require as much running about.
The game can be played as singles (two players) or doubles (four players). Serving is under arm, and the ball doesn’t have as much bounce as a tennis ball.
Oh and that lingo? The kitchen is the name given to an area of the court where you’re not allowed to volley and a dink shot is hitting the ball from your kitchen to the other player’s kitchen.
A falafel is a shot that doesn’t get the ball as far as you’d hoped, and a flat face is when you keep the paddle parallel with the net.
Pickleball is a mix of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, using rectangular, solid-faced bats a bit like a beachball bat, and a plastic ball with holes in it (pictured)
Players (picklers) yell ‘Pickle!’ before serving, and there are dinkballs, flabjacks, OPAs… the list is as extensive as it is colourful.
Aside from being accessible to all ages and levels of fitness, fans say it builds flexibility, muscle strength and endurance while being easier on the joints than most active sports.
In America, where it originated, pickleball is something of a phenomenon, with five million players – George and Amal Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio and the Kardashians among them.
Over here, there are more than 7,000 players. David Lloyd has rolled it out to 20 of its health clubs and plan to introduce it to 40 more, while five Norfolk schools are putting it on their curriculum.
Leisure centres are learning how to adapt their badminton and tennis courts to cope with the growing demand from fans, many of whom are middle aged and beyond.
Karen Mitchell, 62, who chairs Pickleball England, began playing after she retired from her job as vice-president of marketing for American Express. She says: ‘I used to see my neighbours heading to the village hall where I live near Eastbourne and wondered what they were doing.
Players (picklers) yell ‘Pickle!’ before serving, and there are dinkballs, flabjacks, OPAs… the list is as extensive as it is colourful
‘I discovered one of them had started playing the game on holiday in Florida, brought a kit back, and they played for fun. I joined them and was instantly hooked.’ Karen, who started a pickleball club using badminton courts in Eastbourne, claims it even helped her secure her husband Chris, 65, who is among the top UK players over 50 and has a clutch of medals.
‘I honestly believe it accelerated our courtship from when we met in September 2015 to our wedding in July 2017.
‘I introduced Chris to the people who played in our village hall and it’s such a sociable sport that we met lots of new people and allowed our relationship to flourish.’
While Karen is busy helping promote the sport in schools, and running festivals and competitions nationwide, she laughingly admits her own pickleball skills have suffered, despite the fact the couple have built a court in their garden.
‘I was at a tournament recently and there was a nine-year-old playing alongside a wheelchair user, against a couple in their 60s. Age really is no barrier,’ she adds.
Paddle and ball sets cost between £28 to £175, while a starter kit including net costs £200 to £300. Two-hour sessions at local clubs cost between £5 and £7.
Amanda Trayler, 56, a former Met Police officer, who lives in Ewell, Surrey, did a taster session in 2019 and loved it so much that she decided, with the help of friends and colleagues, to start London Pickleball, which meets regularly.
Despite the pandemic, membership has grown from ten last year to more than 180. ‘I’ve introduced a lot of my friends to Pickleball and we spent so much time playing that we had T-shirts made for our husbands saying they were pickleball widowers.
‘My husband Stuart was a good tennis player but I persuaded him to try it and now he’s as hooked too. For a lot of men, it is the strategy of the game that appeals. For me it’s the fitness aspect.’
Pickleball was invented in 1965 by Joel Pritchard, a US Congressman from Washington State and his friend Bill Bell. The pair returned from golf to find their families sitting around with nothing to do.
The Pritchards’ Seattle home had an old badminton court, but they could only find table tennis bats and a perforated plastic ball. They lowered the net to 36 inches and pickleball was born.
In America, where it originated, pickleball is something of a phenomenon, with five million players – George and Amal Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio and the Kardashians among them
Research suggests playing it can improve hand-eye co-ordination and curb depression, and a 2018 study by Western Colorado University revealed the cardiovascular benefits for those playing three times a week included a 12 per cent increase in cardiovascular fitness, a 3.5 per cent reduction in blood pressure and a five per cent improvement in good cholesterol.
Mike Zehner, a clinical exercise physiologist at Penn State Heart and Vascular Institute in the US, says: ‘Cardiovascular activity like pickleball works to help your blood vessels and this effect can last up to two hours after exercise has ended.
‘It helps with hypertension, strengthens your immune system, supports mental health, regulates blood sugar and can aid sleep.’
Sam Howlett, a tennis coach at The Norwich School, is a recent Pickleball convert.
‘Children aren’t as physically active as they were years ago and have to learn the basics of hand and eye co-ordination and timing from the beginning.
‘Pickleball makes it much easier to do that and the skills are easily transferable to other racket sports,’ says Sam.
Karen Mitchell is working hard to get the game into more schools and officially recognised. So could it one day be an Olympic sport?
‘We’d love to see it as part of the Olympic line-up one day,’ she adds.
For more information, go to pickleballengland.org.
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