Where to play America’s fastest growing new sport in Greater Manchester

A new sport has conquered America and is now making a name for itself in Great Britain. With more than 30 sessions and clubs across the Northwest, Pickleball is here to stay.

The game is traditionally played on a badminton court with hard racquets and a plastic ball. Its popularity is mainly due to the fact that it is accessible to all ages and does not require a lot of equipment.

The Northwest has a monthly doubles league with nine divisions. This is a fairly new initiative for the sport and has more than doubled in size in less than 12 months.

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The sport continues to grow, with Pickleball England having more than 2,000 players, although the actual number of casual players is widely believed to be in excess of 4,000. Last year, the BBC reported more than 4 million players worldwide, citing the pandemic as a factor contributing to increased interest in the sport.

In Greater Manchester there are currently seven Pickleball clubs registered with Pickleball England, one in Salford, Stockport, Rochdale, Leigh, Urmston and two in Bolton.

Robert Rosenfield discovered Pickleball while on a cruise, and although he didn’t have a guide to the game, he picked up the game very quickly and couldn’t wait to play again once he got home.

Robert Rosenfield and his team in Bolton

Upon his return, Robert immediately began playing at his nearest club, which happened to be in Wigan. However, he has since started his own club in Bolton.

His club currently plays at Smithills School on Saturdays between 11am and 1pm. They only have two courts, but are always happy to welcome new members.

He explained how and why he fell in love with the sport: “I was on a cruise and they had this game, so I, my wife and the kids thought we’d give it a try. There was no one around to explain the rules but I really got the feel of it and thought I love this, this is great.

“When I came back I looked for the nearest club that played it, I found one in Wigan and I fell in love with it and have been playing it ever since.

“It’s the fastest growing sport in America, it’s huge over there, they have seats everywhere. It’s not that well known here, but it’s starting to have a following.”

He added: “I want to expand it if I can. It’s a really good society, there are serious players in every sport, but the beauty of it is that it’s a sport for everyone. We have 70-year-olds, 80-year-olds playing in the league.

“The best thing you can do is find your local club, everyone is really welcoming and then get in touch with the club and they will be happy to give you advice on how to get involved. It’s a really good sport and a social sport.”

The history of Pickleball dates back to 1965 when two fathers, Joel Pritchard and Bob Bell, were vacationing on Bainbridge Island off the coast of Seattle, America, and accidentally invented the game to kill boredom. They tried their hand at a racquetball sport on a badminton court with ping-pong racquets and the dog ball whose name was Pickle.

The sport can be played indoors or outdoors, weather permitting
The sport can be played indoors or outdoors, weather permitting

However, others claim the name came from Joel’s wife, Joan, who said the combination of different parts from other games reminded her of the crews of gherkin boats, or small wooden ferries, whose crews were often chosen last.

Elaine Shallcross, North West Regional Director for Pickleball England, explained how she discovered the game in Thailand, played around the world and decided to bring the game home to the North West starting in Burnley.

She said: “The escalation over the last 12 months, certainly in many ways since Covid, is staggering. We had great exposure.

“To be honest, I don’t think pickleball was considered a serious sport because of its name, but now people realize it’s a valuable sport in its own right, even if it’s a derivative of earlier sports like tennis, badminton and table tennis.

“We can hardly meet the demand at the moment. It’s growing so fast.

“There are a lot of people who may have played tennis or other racquet sports that couldn’t maintain the physicality of those sports any longer, so pickleball became a fantastic compromise for those people.

Elaine was introduced to Pickleball while vacationing in Thailand, where she met a former international badminton player who had started playing pickleball in Florida. Elaine started playing in Thailand and has since competed in tournaments in Madrid, Kyiv and India.

Returning to the North West, Elaine was determined to make a name for the sport in the UK and brought the idea of ​​the game to Burnley Council in 2015. She explained: “I went to Burnley Borough Council, where I used to work, I was Head of Sport and Leisure at Burnley, and I said, ‘I have this great game and you have to try it.’ We placed it on a 50 plus multi activity morning and it snowed from then on.

Pickleball is a sport for everyone
Pickleball is a sport for everyone

“We had two sessions during the day and a club at night and then we started at Leigh Sports Village. In the North West, before Pickleball England even existed, I was aiming to be a local ambassador and get as many clubs as possible, so we were in Clitheroe, Longridge and Chorley, Bolton and Wigan.

“Then the game itself became more organized, but my first tournament was in Madrid because there was no tournament in England at the time. It’s growing in other countries just as fast as it is here in England.”

One of the problems Pickleball faced was finding facilities. It is a very versatile sport and can be played on both tennis and badminton courts, both indoors and outdoors.

However, many sports facilities are already fully booked with more popular sports and the weather in the North West is not to be trusted.

“You can play outside, but what’s usually a disadvantage in this country is the weather. We don’t always have the best weather. Therefore it is very difficult to organize something like a special event because there is no alternative.

“If we’ve had an open pickleball championship in Manchester at some tennis club and it’s absolutely been thrown down this weekend, you can’t just pick it up and move it to a sports center because there’s availability.”

Despite these concerns, Elaine has also noticed an increase in tennis clubs taking an interest in the sport, noting that it is accessible to all ages.

She added, “To be honest, it’s a whole new thing that the relationship between tennis facilities and clubs and Pickleball has been improving at a rapid pace. At some point I would say it almost never happened that the two would meet.

“Now it has been recognized that Pickleball can help young players in particular to learn some of the basic motor skills required for tennis and the transition to tennis.”

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