By Ben Cornwell

Pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports, claimed to be enjoyed by more than 4.2 million players worldwide. It was first introduced in the UK around ten years ago, yet many people have never even heard of it – myself included until a few weeks ago.

The sport combines elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis. It is played both indoors and outdoors on a badminton-sized court and with a slightly modified tennis net. The basic aim of the sport is for players to use their solid paddles to hit a perforated ball, rather than the small briny vegetable that the name may suggest, over the net. 

Sessions have been led at Freedom Leisure centre in Bexhill for over two years by local pickleball player, Rachel Mackriell. Rachel had enjoyed regular games of table tennis but, having suffered from a serious knee injury, she found she could no longer run around as much. She attended a session around five years ago in Eastbourne run by Karen Mitchell, Chair of Pickleball England, the governing body, and has been playing ever since, She describes it as “like playing table tennis on a badminton-sized court”. 

“It’s an incredible sport, and it’s starting to take off in schools because it’s so easy to learn and easy to play,” she says. 

The sport’s reputation as being played only by seniors may be due to its accessibility: it’s easier than tennis. But the players at Bexhill prove that it can be a fast-paced game played with similar strategies to other racket sports. 

The slower speed of the ball (roughly a third of the average tennis ball), the smaller- sized court and the underhand serve together benefit both younger players and seniors. 

 “We have children right through to grandparents playing pickleball,” says Rachel, “and we have people with disabilities playing. So it’s great – it means we can all play this sport together socially and competitively.” 

Around 16-24 people turn up to play at the Bexhill sessions, and I saw when I came that everyone was enjoying it, even beginners. One man said he had enjoyed his first few pickleball sessions even though he “hadn’t quite mastered the sport yet”.

Trying out the sport for myself, it took me only five minutes or so to pick up the basics and to get a gentle rally going between myself and my opponent across the net. Playing tennis regularly may have helped speed up the learning process slightly. Nonetheless, it was a good experience playing the unusually named sport for the first time.

Pickleball sessions at Freedom Leisure, Bexhill are on Wednesdays from 11am-2pm and Sundays 1:30pm-4pm. Sessions cost £3.65 per person. There is no need to book ahead, just show up and play. All equipment, including paddles and balls, will be provided.

To find other pickleball sessions or to learn more about the sport visit: pickleballengland.org 


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