Meet Michael de Groot pickleball club leader and County Representative for Worcestershire
Find out how Michael found out about pickleball and ended up starting a club and volunteering to be a PbE County Rep.
I played racket sports in my teens and early twenties, but never ever consistently. I played a bit of tennis, a bit of squash and a bit of badminton. I worked in London and had a long commute back to Surrey where my family moved from Amsterdam in the late 70’s. My Dad was a banker with the Bank of America and was posted to London and us kids all wanted to work in London, which meant commuting. After a long day at work and then a commute, the time to do sports in the evening had gone. So, I never became good at any of them, just average although my hand / ball / shuttle co-ordination has always been decent.
Roll on 40 odd years and my interest in pickleball was ignited by a guest on my podcast, Clinton Young, a pickleball pro-commentator, coach and motor home owner, who travels across the USA running coaching clinics, raising money for good causes and appearing on podcasts. When he mentioned the word pickleball, I said, like all of us have at some point, what??! Until that point I had never heard about pickleball, let alone seen it. After the interview, YouTube of course helped me out to get up to speed.
So my journey to discover pickleball began…
Several Google searches led me to Pickleball England and Karen Mitchell, who I then also connected with via LinkedIn. Karen was super responsive, below was our very first communication exchange on 24th May 2022.
“Hello Karen, I just heard about pickleball after I interviewed an American guest on my podcast. There are no clubs near me – Worcestershire – I play badminton at a local gym in Kidderminster and wondered how can I convince them to add pickleball nets to the courts? Any suggestions?”
“Thank you for your message Michael, pickleball is really growing over here. There are an estimated 6k players and we have almost 3,000 members. There are a number of clubs around Birmingham. It might be good for you to try the game at one of these and then determine if you would like to start play in Kidderminster. Portable nets are not expensive (start from £99). Some clubs start by lowering badminton nets to 34” until they build up numbers. Here is a link to our club locator: https://www.pickleballengland.org/pickleball-club-locator-england/ If you send me your email address, I can introduce you to our County Representative and Regional Director who can help you with taster sessions, information, etc. Hope to meet you soon. Karen”
In January 2022 I joined our local u3a, Wyre Forest & District u3a and as I had not played Badminton for decades and they have a couple of weekly Badminton groups, I looked forward to playing again and not only did I get an opportunity to get back into a racket sport again, I also witnessed the system in action for allowing people to attend and play. Just a simple pay and play session for just £2.00 per 1 hour session, no other expenses apart from the very inexpensive £12.50 annual membership fee for our local u3a and that fee awards you many other u3a activities of course run by other local group leaders. The leisure centre also give the u3a, as it’s a charity, a 20% discount on court hire.
There were around a dozen of us playing Badminton regularly each week and the process for playing a few games with different partners was very civilised and they would make a perfect cohort to introduce pickleball too. I printed the pickleball rules and shared it with our Badminton players to get them interested in pickleball. Of course it was for completely selfish reasons, I wanted to play it locally or somewhere in Worcestershire at least, but of course there wasn’t anywhere in the County, as yet!
Karen then introduced me to Gillian Hogan who is Pickleball England’s volunteer county representative for Staffordshire and after a few back and forth messages and within 4 weeks of my original message to Karen, we agreed to run a pickleball taster session for u3a members of the weekly Badminton group on Wednesday 22nd June 2022. However, the Badminton group members had also shared it with their network and we had a really big group who wanted to have a go.
By now I had already started discussions with the leisure centre, Wyre Forest Leisure, who had also never heard of pickleball, but were intrigued and willing to assist by allowing us the courts for free for our tester event.
The tester event was a massive success and I learnt from Gillian by observing her, how to introduce the game to newbies, to start with anyway.
And then the work started. Now I needed to get at least a dozen people interested in playing so that I can follow a similar model compared with our Badminton group, but there were a few challenges to overcome first. Paddles and Balls!
Before I could tackle that, I needed some confidence that there would definitely be interest and requested my u3a Chair to email the membership. My wife, Clair, prepared a nice banner image and a digital leaflet for the email and I basically asked for names, emails and mobile numbers to build up my email list and within a few short weeks we were up to around 40 people who were interested in playing.
I approached the leisure centre and explained that the tester was really successful and around 40 people wanted to have a go, but that I needed Paddles and Balls. To my surprise and delight they agreed to order enough paddles (wooden ones) and balls (cheap ones) for us to use and the best thing of all, they were happy for us to use them free of charge.
We did have to wait a while to get the equipment delivered but once they had, we were ready to start the official u3a pickleball sessions and they commenced on Monday 1st August. I did have a go with lowering the Badminton nets, but it just took too long and very fiddly to get right. I demonstrated to the Leisure Centre how much their income would be for courts that were sitting idle during the daytime and it convinced them to purchase proper pickleball nets too. Furthermore as the numbers grew and another splinter group (non-u3a) with retired and semi-retired men who used to play 5-aside football together and now converted to pickleball, we managed to convince the centre to order even more pickleball nets and between two centres in the Wyre Forest, we now have 9 nets to match the 9 Badminton courts.
Our current players total 24 on courts on a Monday at 2pm and around 28 people on courts on a Wednesday between 8.30 – 10.30am. The Monday session will grow even further as we add another playable court. From the very start I had to use an online booking system, which has allowed me to manage the numbers and regularly players ask to be placed on my manual waiting list too. There are 16 spots to cover 12 places on courts, so that players can rotate a little and because we only score to 7 it means nobody has to wait to long before they have another game.
We’ve also had a fair a bit of news coverage with BBC Local Radio and even The Guardian newspaper.
I’m delighted with the outcome of having started pickleball in Worcestershire, I also trained to become a Level 1 coach and qualified in November 2022 and recently became a volunteer pickleballEngland county representative for Worcestershire.
To learn more about what we’re up to in the Wyre Forest region of Worcestershire you can visit wyreforestpickleball.com
Apart from Pickleball, my other passion is Japanese Taiko Drumming. I was a kit drummer in my teens in a London punk band, we never made it and I gave up drumming, which was my biggest regret in life, until a new friend introduced me to Taiko drumming in 2018. I formed a local group, Wyre Forest Taiko and my teacher who runs Taiko West and teaches across the Midlands, comes and teaches us Taiko every month in Worcestershire. You can learn more about us at taikowest.com/wyre-forest-taiko.
Michael de Groot
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