Kath Knowles Guest Blog on pickleball during Covid-19
PICKLEBALL LOCKDOWN – WHERE THERE’S A WILL THERE’S A WAY!
As a member of Leigh Pickleball in North West England since 2017, I affiliated to Pickleball England but for the last 2 years have been living and playing Pickleball on the Isle of Anglesey in North Wales, and thought I’d share my Pickleball experience of life in lockdown!
Initially, after 3 weeks of solitude and missing this great game so much, I came up with the Idea of a makeshift court on my own drive and managed to tape out a court 10’ across by 22’ long using 2 old pallets at 34” high as a net/barrier and then begged my better half to play with me! Cleggy was always reluctant, so at the first opportunity I formed a bubble with my great friend and ladies doubles partner Rachel Moore who walked round to my house almost everyday to play socially distanced skinny/short Pickleball in the beautiful afternoon sun. We loved it!
This lifted our spirits so much, that on the 5th July when restrictions were eventually relaxed here in Wales, my attention focused on others from Beaumaris Pickleball who I knew would be desperate to play again. I was told about a little used Tennis Centre in Benllech Bay, and upon inspection found the 2 tennis courts there to be in great condition and better still overlooked the beautiful beach at Benllech Bay.
It was quickly established that the tennis courts formed part of an immaculate Crown Green Bowling Club, so myself and John Davitt approached the ‘guy in charge’ Gwyn and I eagerly shared my thoughts of how we could breathe much needed new life into these little used courts by bringing the game of a Pickleball to Benllech Bay. Despite having never heard of Pickleball, Gwyn’s ears pricked up when I said with great enthusiasm that I was confident in increasing their membership by at least 20 people (if not more) at a half year membership fee of £22.50, and that when Covid was over and with World Pickleball Day in mind our Club would be willing to organise and run an Open Day in the summer season for locals, holidaymakers, and children alike if we could get hold of some extra paddles and outdoor balls. I truly believe Gwyn was caught up in my enthusiasm and long term plans for an outdoor Pickleball facility on the beautiful Isle of Anglesey, and he agreed that providing I managed our group numbers and we adhered to all current Covid restrictions and signed in on arrival for track and trace purposes that he would be willing to allow us to use the courts for our ‘crazy’ sport! On my way home, after that initial meeting, I called at the Treasurer’s house who just happens to live in the same fishing village as myself and handed him 3 membership forms with cheques attached and very enthusiastically sold all the benefits that Outdoor Pickleball would bring to their Bowls & Recreation Centre. I asked him to watch the game on You Tube so he would get an idea of how big the game was in the USA and how fast growing it had become here in the UK! We commenced play the very next day but initially were restricted to 8 players only in the complex but after I explained that we would like to follow the recommendations as laid out by Pickleball England (who are bone fide governing body) of allowing 6 players to a court with no mixing, he eventually agreed to allowing 12 players in the complex. Benllech Outdoor Pickleball now has 26 members, making Gwyn and their Treasurer Geoff from the Bowls section two very happy people as it has boosted their funds significantly and brought a vibrant energy and much zest and laughter (especially in the wind!) into these tennis courts! We get lots of passing interest when we are playing and I believe this facility can go from strength to strength once Covid is back in its box and our numbers will grow significantly!
Furthermore, as marking the whole courts out was proving time consuming and costly, one of our picklers, John Davitt came up with the idea of cutting 4 x 44’ length strips of weighted Lino which he painstaking put together for us to roll out each time we play, we then used coloured chalk for the NVZ line and back line to prevent tripping or slipping. Eventually, I approached Gwyn to ask if would consider allowing us to paint our own lines on, which has now been agreed. Despite my best efforts, I have been unable to convince the committee to allow us to utilise the whole area to make 5 or 6 Pickleball courts, as it would have been wonderful to see the whole place filled with 24 Pickleballers at any one session! Nevertheless, we are delighted that for the time being, we can go ahead and mark two correctly sized courts in a permanent manner and that the Benllech Bowls & Recreational Club kindly agreed to meet our out of pocket expenses too. To this end, my wonderful other half made a template to hopefully make the spray paint job easier!
Due to tighter restrictions here Anglesey for indoor play, as far as I know only one private Sports Hall at Beaumaris is allowing indoor Pickleball as many other council run sports centres have been Risk Assessed but weren’t able to comply with CoVid safety regulations or have been earmarked for mass vaccination over the winter. The Braillsford Sports Centre at Bangor University where we played with U3A have a membership of approx. 40 Pickleball players, is currently being utilised as a Nightingale hospital and will remain so for the foreseeable future! This means that there are many people in our area that want to play the game but are left with nowhere to play now winter is approaching! As for ourselves, outdoor play at Benllech, will continue throughout winter, weather permitting as Gwyn has kindly agreed to come and open the facility up, despite the Bowling season finishing by October.
We have brought much vibrancy, laughter and happiness to Benllech Bowls and Tennis Recreational Centre increasing their membership with a total of 24 senior players, and one junior member! Next summer‘s vision is to increase to minimum 4 courts so we can hold some Open Days for locals, holidaymakers and people of all ages to come and ‘Have a Go at Pickleball’ to help the World Pickleball Federation’s aspiration of spreading the Pickleball love globally.
As a Club and despite Covid, we have attracted several brand newbies to Pickleball who are proving to have natural great skills as they have come from either tennis, table tennis or badminton settings and they too have been desperate to get back to playing sport in these unprecedented times.
We are all hooked on outdoor play, and run 3 x 3 hour sessions each week, with Sunday being for the more experienced players and harder hitters only, who wish to go on and compete and attend festivals in the future.
The Pickleball love is more infectious than Covid here at the moment and from the mental health and feel good factor alone we all feel a huge lift of spirits in these strange times.
I personally feel that Mental Health Awareness week should try and encourage everyone who loves sport, regardless of age or ability, to stick a paddle in their hand, point them in the direction of a Pickleball court and away they go. Pickleball has an atmosphere all of its own and the Pickleball love across the world is a truly wonderful thing. It can be played across the board from the highest competitive level to purely recreational but the end result is the same, one of happiness, fulfilment, achievement and love.
If any Pickleballers from England, Scotland, Ireland or South Wales wish to visit our beautiful island, please bring your own Paddle and outdoor ball with you and private message me so I can arrange a game or 3!
Until then, keep on pickling and hope to see everyone when festivals, competitions resume next year.
Until we meet again .. keep on pickling 🏓🏓🏓🏓 🏴 🏴 🏴 🏴
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