Read about this inspiring club where inclusiveness is a passion.
From the start, John Wilson, with encouragement from Kirsty Jones, the Community Active Sport’s Development Officer, always wanted to see pickleball flourish and become a very big thing in the area. His aim to create a ‘Centre of Excellence’ always forefront in his mind throughout our club’s development.
How and when did we start playing?
In the Autumn of 2019, Kirsty set up a community class for pickleball through Everyone Active at Hemel Leisure Centre. Our Chair, John Wilson, was trained to run it, and Brian Harrison and Lyn Epps joined a few weeks in. The numbers were just starting to grow, and then we went into the first lockdown.
We all exchanged numbers and formed a WhatsApp group and started playing outside at Lyn’s old tennis club, at Leverstock Green. After going indoors and outdoors several times we finally got back to playing regularly in Hemel LC. There was an unofficial committee set up with John, Brian and Lyn on it, but in lesser committee roles. This was a small group meeting each week just to play socially, and no prospect of forming a proper club, and we wanted more than that.
When was West Herts Wizards Club created?
John, Brian and Lyn decided to start playing at Berkhamsted Leisure Centre, where there were more courts available, and a chance to set up a proper club, expand and play competitively. A few others came with us from Hemel and so we formed a committee of 6 people, with John, Brian and Lyn taking the roles of Chair, Treasurer and Secretary, respectively. West Herts Wizards was then registered as a club with Pickleball England February 22nd, 2022. At the time, we only had about 10-15 players.
N.B. We now have 9 on the Committee, 15 club members with Pickleball Leaders Certification, 2 with former GB Level 1, and 8 have done the IPTPA Level 1 Workshop and over 150 members.
How did we get the name Wizards?
Once deciding on Berkhamsted, we wanted to have an identity, give ourselves a name. After retiring, John had done some work with some Magic Federation, a group of people that used to do events for people, involve them in tasks and entertain with tricks. When this ceased to operate, they didn’t have the funds to pay him for what he’d done, and so in lieu of payment, he was given 12 polo shirts that they had, with the magic flash, as a logo on it. These had been sitting around in his house for some time, so we decided to give them out to the first 12 people who joined us, and we just started calling ourselves Wizards. We then had a chat about whether we wanted an alliterative name to go with Wizards, or a name to do with the locality of Berkhamsted or Dacorum and so settled on West Herts Wizards, which covered both ideas. It also meant being West Herts, we didn’t need to be specifically linked to the one Leisure Centre, or one town.
Building the club
We began running a one-hour evening session for Everyone Active on Wednesday nights and at the same time had our own club session on a Monday afternoon, starting off with two courts only, for two hours. The Wednesday night session fed players into the club session. We ran taster days every bank holiday and gradually the numbers grew. There was a group of younger badminton players (Andy Tallyn + Darren Smith, personal trainers) that played in their lunchtime at the same time as we met on Mondays, and Andy’s father Graham, also joined them. They were all excellent tennis players, some with experience at county level. We invited them to join us for the second hour and it became a regular thing. They began to get hooked on pickleball and spread the word to others. Little did we know then, that Andy would eventually end up being one of our main coaches at the club a year later.
From the tasters and word of mouth, numbers grew over the months from February to August, so we increased the number of courts we used and began another session on Thursdays.
We applied for a Dacorum Borough Council Grant and were successful in starting a year-long project in Sept 2022. The main objectives were to increase the numbers in the community who could access pickleball, start a Saturday session, go into schools, purchase equipment such as nets and paddles for the club, paddles to take into schools to use during sessions, but also to leave a starter pack with some schools. Basically, the objective was to improve health, fitness, well-being of members of the community and provide opportunities for people to meet socially. We’ve been doing all that, and more…
In order to have the club run efficiently, we have encouraged several members to do the Pickleball Leaders Course so they are confident about running sessions. We have 15 with the PLC. Sessions are very structured with a range of ways they are organised from planned scheduled games, the use of a board and names on magnetic tiles, to American doubles etc. We do a drill at the beginning of these sessions.
We now have sessions on
Monday 11.30 – 13.30 on 6 courts
Tuesday 20.00 – 21.30 on 5 courts
Wednesday 18.00 – 19.00 on 6 courts
Thursday 13.00 – 15.00 on 6 courts
Friday 15.00 – 17.00 on 6 courts (for those playing in the Herts League etc 3.5+)
Saturday 13.00 – 15.00 on 4 courts – often increased to 5 courts
We are looking to add in more sessions to cater for the increased membership.
After five club members did the IPTPA Level 1 in January 2023, (and another two more members did the IPTPA in June 2023 and one more in Jan 2024) we decided as a club that we would offer something a bit different to other clubs. New members have an introductory session with one of the leaders when they first come, but we offer more than this. We give a free hour group coaching session to every member at some stage after that, which is provided mostly by Andy Tallyn and Simon Beddell. Club members then have the opportunity to take up individual / pairs / small group coaching with them should they wish to, and many do. These are booked at different times, but over the summer period last year, we have kept one court available for coaching during the sessions on Monday and Thursday, because of less court availability due to kid’s holiday clubs. In September last year, Saturday coaching clinics were begun by Andy and Simon. Up to 12 players on three courts for an hour, catering for a different level each weekend.
One of our committee members, Glenn Beadle, who is responsible for Fixtures, joined the Herts Pickleball Committee and became the League Administrator of the first Herts Pickleball League. We put in two teams, whilst other clubs stuck to one. The good news is that our West Herts A team won all their games, and consequently won the inaugural Herts League. All very competitive, but played in a very friendly spirited way, with more interaction with these clubs afterwards.,
We had 17 club members playing in Telford at the 2023 English Open in singles, ladies / men’s doubles and mixed and included players in the 18+, 35+, 50+, 60+, 65+. This year we will also have 70+ players. For a very new club, and very first Open tournament, we had a haul of 10 medals come back, 8 golds and 2 silvers in singles and men’s doubles, many others getting to the quarter final stage and every entrant, winning games in the round-robin. At Bolton, the story continued with this time a haul of 14 medals, which was amazing as many had moved up to the next level and once again had success. Also, we had a much greater mix of both men and women with success. 2024 will see involvement in other leagues and county matches for members of the Wizards, plus a reach out to younger members, as 75% of us are over 55!
Lyn is a retired teacher (secondary and SEND), Brian was a football referee, and John a rugby referee, so all well-used to dealing with youngsters. We offered a free taster session to all secondary PE staff in Dacorum, which was well attended. We then followed this up by giving a taster session to over 100 Year 7 pupils from six different schools, plus another 20 pupils in special needs schools. We will be going back into these schools to support them with pickleball in the curriculum, and/or in after school/lunchtime clubs. If they are set up with their own paddles etc in the schools, then there will be no additional cost for the youngsters to play, such as court hire at leisure centres, or having to buy paddles. We can go in and coach, but as a club, we are also looking at how we can help get more equipment into schools. There are other ex-teachers/children’s sport’s coaches in the club, who will help as we develop play in schools in Dacorum / West Herts. Once pickleball is established in schools, we will then look to running a separate junior club session at the weekend.
We have started wheelchair pickleball and have our first signed up member of the club. Ella Archer, is a member alongside her husband, mum and dad, and brother-in-law. Contacts have been made with other established sporting groups that offer wheelchair sport, including Stoke Mandeville, so we expect this to develop quickly, especially as Ella works for WheelPower which includes being at Stoke Mandeville one day a week. They are keen to get us involved in some of their games and festivals they put on. In December, we provided a taster session to 50 wheelchair users from aged 8 to 60, at the Bucks Festival Games held at The Guttman Centre, Stoke Mandeville. From this we are trying to help players find places to play in their own localities.
We have been supporting a gentleman in his 70s who has dementia. He has been coming with his sister to play. He was an excellent tennis player back in the day, and his natural racquet skills come to the fore all the time. Neither he, nor his sister, would mind me saying he never knows what the score is, but then neither do most of us, so we repeat the rules regarding the non-volley-zone over and over, to ensure the game goes well and everyone’s happy! His sister can’t bring him now and he has reached a stage where it’s become too much, but I’m sure we managed to keep him active for much longer than was expected.
As a club, we offer those players for whom the cost of living is having a big impact, the opportunity to remain playing at a reduced session fee and/or no cost to renew membership.
Younger players (over 11) who play at an adult level, are welcome to sessions, with an accompanying adult.
WEST HERTS WIZARDS
Founded Feb 2022 with 10-15 players
August 2023 membership of around 100
January 2024 membership of ~150
Committee of 9 people
15 Certified Pickleball Leaders
8 IPTPA Level 1 coaches.
How do we keep everyone happy in the club?
I think most pickleball clubs are very friendly, but we make an extra effort to make people very welcome. We give time to new players to make sure they have a thorough introduction to the game and then place them into games with suitable players. We have Helene Shields in charge of health and safety plus policies, to ensure club members minimise the risk of injury and generally keep everyone safe and happy.
Our Social Secretary, Anne Smith, arranges somewhere to go afterwards on the first Monday of each month, and several club members now go together to pub quizzes at a local hostelry close to the Leisure Centre. Other events are planned – we had a big summer BBQ and there’s often a pub drink after the Friday session. A special celebratory drink was had after Telford when lots of members attended to find out more about it, and to support our medallists.
After friendlies and League games we provide very good food and refreshments, and good company! Special Christmas themed sessions and a club Christmas dinner finished off the year in style.
We have built up a good relationship with the manager and workers at the Leisure Centre. Often members and non-members book additional courts to play during the week. Taking this into account, there’s about 70+ hours a week booked out for pickleball at Berkhamsted LC. Although there are some badminton players that still aren’t too keen on pickleball players, because of the extent we have grown the club, and increased the income for the sports centre, we are now looked on most favourably. Hence, the curtains were replaced and we have just had permanent kitchen lines put down on all 6 courts.
We have members who come from far and wide to attend our sessions when there are closer clubs they could go to – these are from North London, Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire, so Julie Hoskins our membership secretary is kept very busy. We used Chesham Leisure Centre for some small groups to meet for coaching and four ball games, whilst Berkhamsted has a summer kid’s club in operation and court space reduced. Taster days began at Chesham in the autumn. Simon Beddell, who is our club Vice Chair, has just last year, taken up the position of Manager at Chesham LC, so it will only grow from herein.
Our WhatsApp groups are very active with people putting up pics of play at social sessions and club matches.
We have put articles in local Free Mags and newspapers that go out to Berkhamsted, Tring and Hemel. Our club website has been relaunched an our Facebook page is getting increased numbers of views.
We have a club newsletter that goes out every two/three months, to all members, to give information and also some fun bits as well. It is called ‘Around the Post’! The coaches are now putting coaching tips in as well!
For 2024, we will be celebrating being two years old as a club in February and we are going to have our first club championships in March.
The success of the club is down to the large number of members who are prepared to put in the work to make it as such. We are very fortunate that we’ve somehow managed to get lots of people to take on roles, and not just retirees! There is a genuine respect from all members for what we are doing for them, which of course makes it all worthwhile.
The original aim of creating a Centre of Excellence is coming to fruition!
With thanks to Lyn Epps for the content of this page.
Due to the popularity of the club and sessions becoming oversubscribed, we have had to suspend membership until such time that we can extend our sessions and court time (in April). However, the Everyone Active pickleball sessions, which are run by West Herts Wizards, continue to be available for everyone to book online. This includes new players, who will get an introduction and coaching from one of our qualified club leaders or coaches.
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