Gosport Pickleball Club doubles its membership in 3 weeks!

Ian Kingsbury, IPTPA Coach and Chair of Gosport Pickleball Club is the guest author for this blog.

My wife, Pauline and I returned from Florida in early May 2020 after 6 months playing pickleball and watching, with some trepidation, the development and spread of Covid 19. We arrived back to UK Lockdown and voluntarily quarantined for 14 days. Before leaving Sarasota we had already decided that we were going to introduce Gosport to the delights and fun of pickleball, but the government restrictions put paid to that until outdoor play, operating under the Rule of Six, was introduced.

In June 2020, we decided to try and play on public tennis courts (with temporary line markers) and interest was sparked from passing dog walkers and so our numbers began to increase until late August when we were able to play indoors at our local Leisure Centre still operating under the strict Rule of Six. November arrives and we are back to Lockdown and that continued until the end of March when outdoor (Rule of Six) play started again. This time the weather, particularly, the wind was against us and when our net blew over a few times and the line markers took to the air we knew the unfavourable spring weather was problematic and, thereafter, it became a regular feature on play days to check the weather forecast for rain but more importantly, wind speed, double digits was definitely a ‘No No’ for pickleball.

May 19th saw us return to Gosport Leisure Centre (again under Rule of Six) and to make life a little easier I introduced an App called TeamReach which allowed players to reserve their place. At that time, we were using 2 courts so numbers were restricted to 12 and it was first come first served until July when restrictions again were eased and player numbers were not an issue.  Having missed an opportunity to partake in World Pickleball Day in October 2020 due to Covid-19 we decided to ‘fly the Pickleball Flag’ in Gosport for WPD 2021.

With agreement from the Leisure Centre, we booked 2 courts for 4 hours and permission was also granted  to use the large-paved area adjacent to the front entrance to set up a pickleball net with line markers for a serving competition to attract some of the Leisure Centre visitors. Various prizes were donated for the kids, and the Leisure Centre donated 2 premium memberships for the adults. Local advertising was placed, my wife started a Club Facebook Page and contact was made with the Sports Editor for BBC TV South and he and a cameraman agreed to visit on the Tuesday before WPD to film and interview us on a normal club day. To further spread the word, Karen and Chris Mitchell from Pickleball England and PBE Hampshire Rep Richard Thoms kindly agreed to join us and put the Pickleball Word out there for all potential players in the southern regional area covered by BBC TV South. The clip was put out that evening and considerable interest followed, so much so that we had more than 50 people turn up on the Saturday to try pickleball and have a go at the serving competition. Within 3 weeks, our membership increased from 19 to 42 players and we had to close applications at that point because of safety and court limitations.  Since then, we have changed times and club days so we can use all 4 courts at the Leisure Centre.  We used 2 courts for coaching and the other 2 for rec play until the newbies were capable and qualified to integrate into normal club rec sessions. The number of people wishing to play pickleball took us by surprise, however, our existing club members played their part in assisting the newbies learn, understand and appreciate the game we all love.

Would I do it again!, certainly not during a pandemic, but I am bound to say watching our novices climb that learning curve and thank us for introducing them to pickleball is well worth the effort. The downside, and I believe this is a concern in many areas, is finding a suitable location to play, locally in Gosport, the public outdoor tennis facilities are very poor and indoors we seem to share sports halls with children’s creches, bouncy castles and parties.

As a country, we have a long way to go to provide new clubs and interested people with a suitable and safe location to play pickleball –  so we all have to ‘do our bit’ locally by making strong representation to local authorities to open their mind to improving outdoor facilities and permitting pickleball clubs to have few pickleball court lines painted on some of the underused tennis courts thereby permitting pickleball to thrive and expand.

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