Pickleball: The quirky court sport that's taking Nottingham by storm

One enthusiast reckons Pickleball could be on track to becoming the nation's next big sport
Pickleball is a bit like a hybrid sport combining tennis and table tennis and can be played inside or out. Pickleball is a bit like a hybrid sport combining tennis and table tennis and can be played inside or out.
Pickleball is a bit like a hybrid sport combining tennis and table tennis and can be played inside or out.

Walk past a tennis club in Britain today and out of the corner of your eye everything might seem normal. 

But look a little closer and you’ll notice that some of the players aren’t holding rackets, they’re playing with paddles that look more like table tennis bats.

A new court sport is sweeping the UK and Nottingham already has its devoted following.

Pickleball began in America, invented on a family holiday as a homemade twist on tennis. One of the families brought their dog along on the holiday. His name was Pickle. 

But from these quaint origins, the game that the family invented is today a serious, international sport that could one day be more popular than its court-based predecessor.

There are huge international tournaments, major league teams with celebrity owners, and increasingly lucrative prize pots to be won.

People playing pickleball at Mapperley Park Tennis ClubPeople playing pickleball at Mapperley Park Tennis Club
People playing pickleball at Mapperley Park Tennis Club

It’s played on tennis courts outdoors and indoors but in a space two-thirds the size of a traditional tennis playing area. Instead of stringed rackets players use a paddle that resembles a large, almost rectangular table tennis bat. And the ball is plastic and perforated, which makes for easier control.

What began in the States eventually reached Britain. And now thousands of tennis players are ditching their rackets to have a go at the new sport.

One of the people leading the rise of the sport in Nottingham is Rachel Kirk, based at the Mapperley Park Tennis Club. 

A professional tennis coach, Kirk tried pickleball for the first time in early 2019. Now she runs up to five sessions per week at the club, and has played in international tournaments as a high-ranking pickleballer.

Its appeal, she says, is due to the ease of learning to play and the more relaxed, less elitist attitude that is often found in tennis.

She says: “Pickleball is very accessible. Tennis is quite elite, it's difficult to access. A lot of tennis players come in and say ‘Gosh this is really friendly’. 

“It’s addictive. Now people are dropping professional tennis and going into it because it’s easier. It can be young fit people or it can be people who are older or less fit. You can compete even in your 70s.”

Hence one of the reasons pickleball is getting so popular. It allows players to go at a far less physically intense pace if they wish, which means older people and people with lower fitness and mobility can enjoy it.

But that’s just for those who wish to play at a leisurely pace. Others, like Kirk, are at a high level and don’t hold back.

“If you see it’s played it’s so fast and furious and exciting,” she says.

Taking over tennis

Rachel Kirk, pickleball player extraordinaire Rachel Kirk, pickleball player extraordinaire
Rachel Kirk, pickleball player extraordinaire

Tennis can be something of a racket, and Kirk has faced her own struggles to get the traditionalists to take pickleball seriously. Not helped, she admits, by the name.

But initial resistance by the committee of the Mapperley Park Tennis Club five years ago has been replaced by outright enthusiasm.

“We’ve got our pickleball haters,” she says. “There’s still snobbery. I put my neck out five years ago. Nobody knew it back then. I had to go to the committee meeting, and half of them didn’t want it.”

Now that’s all changed, and the club is a welcome home for both sports. There’s even a chance that pickleball will become the most popular court sport one day.

“Tennis is in decline,” says Kirk. “All my enquiries are about pickleball now”