Ire­land go­ing to bat for age­less pick­le­ball

It’s played across the US and now the pad­dle sport, which can be played by eight-year-olds to 80-year-olds, is grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity here, writes Mar­garet Jen­nings

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Ageing With Attitude -

FOUR mil­lion play it in Amer­ica, thou­sands more in Bri­tain, Europe, In­dia, and Aus­tralia — and ten­nis coach Michael McDaid pre­dicts it will be the fast­ing-grow­ing sport across the world over the next few years.

Wel­come to pick­le­ball, a pad­dle sport that com­bines el­e­ments of ten­nis, bad­minton, and ping pong on a bad­minton court and which is the new kid on the block for the grow­ing older gen­er­a­tion who want to get ac­tive and have fun as they age.

While the BMB Ac­tive Re­tire­ment group in Mul­ty­farn­ham, Co West­meath, have been on the ball, so to speak, for the past four years, with ore than 20 reg­u­lar play­ers turn­ing up at the lo­cal cen­tre for games three times a week, the word is spread­ing about its benefits across the coun­try, with seven clubs in ex­is­tence.

In Septem­ber Ac­tive Re­tire­ment Ire­land, the com­mu­nity-based older peo­ple’s or­gan­i­sa­tion, which has 24,500 mem­bers, en­dorsed the sport when it held its first pick­le­ball cham­pi­onship at its an­nual Na­tional Bowls Com­pe­ti­tion and Ac­tiv­ity Break event, in Castle­bar, Co Mayo.

Spread­ing the word is 62-year-old Michael McDaid, based in Done­gal, who formed the not-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion Pick­le­ball Ire­land two years ago. At this early stage, it is still a rep­re­sen­ta­tive body rather than a for­mal af­fil­i­ated as­so­ci­a­tion; since he is semire­tired, he is trav­el­ling around the coun­try in his camper­van pro­mot­ing the sport on re­quest.

Al­though pick­le­ball was in­vented in the US in 1965 as a back­yard game and has been pop­u­lar there, with longevity and set­ting health­ier lifestyle goals on our agenda now, per­haps its mo­ment has now come to this side of the world. It suits all ages, from eight to 80, can be played in­doors, and at a pace that suits all lev­els, says McDaid.

“I’m just back from an Ac­tive Re­tire­ment group in Sligo, in­tro­duc­ing them to it and when they started you would know that they hadn’t moved at any pace for years,” he tells Feel­good. “And yet when we fin­ished it, they were all roasted, they were all sweat­ing, they were all laugh­ing, and they said, ‘That was just great craic.’

“Within an hour these peo­ple had gone from zero to ac­tu­ally be­ing able to have a rally. As a ten­nis coach and a player for 40 years, to get some­one from zero to a ral­ly­ing po­si­tion can take six months to a year.

“That’s what the sport is about — we are get­ting peo­ple back to ac­tiv­ity who haven’t done any­thing for 40 years. Also be­cause it’s a bad­minton court, there is a great prox­im­ity over the net — there’s great ban­ter that goes on, ev­ery­where you go.”

Ray Clarke, a grand­fa­ther of eight from Mul­ty­farn­ham, won the re­cent Ac­tive Re­tire­ment Ire­land pick­le­ball tour­na­ment with his part­ner Ju­dith Camp­bell Rick­etts. “Any­one can get into this, even if you haven’t moved for decades and even though some peo­ple can be com­pet­i­tive as well, it’s all in good sport. It’s en­joy­able and we have a bit of a laugh — it’s fun, it’s so­cial and ac­tive for both the body and the mind. I think it’s ter­rific and there are lots of peo­ple older than me who would say the same; that only for it, they would be to­tally in­ac­tive.”

A re­tired builder and fa­ther of four, who is al­most 75, Clarke says he goes so reg­u­larly that, aside from gar­den­ing, it is his main phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity as well as a so­cial event. “We have a woman of 80 years of age play­ing and our four courts, which take 16 play­ers, are reg­u­larly in use all the time at ses­sions.”

McDaid’s pre­dicted growth of the game here is based on a prac­ti­cal el­e­ment also; he guesses that 90% of sports halls across the coun­try have bad­minton courts, as the lines were drawn as a mat­ter of form when they were built. The in­vest­ment af­ter that is min­i­mal, in­volv­ing nets, plas­tic balls — which have holes in them (like old ten­nis balls) but are slightly larger than a ten­nis ball — and the al­most weight­less pad­dles which are like large ta­ble ten­nis bats.

The pace at which the ball is hit is much slower, which adds to it be­ing an in­ter­gen­er­a­tional game, he says. “There’s no doubt that ev­ery town in Ire­land will fea­ture pick­le­ball be­cause it can be played be­tween kids in schools and 80-year-olds. Power and speed and fit­ness isn’t re­ally an ad­van­tage so it’s a great equaliser be­tween the ages.

“You can get an older, ex­pe­ri­enced pick­le­baller and they be­come a cute player — they know how to min­imise their move­ment on the court; where to be; and how to an­tic­i­pate and play soft shots. I’ve seen cute older men and women frus­trat­ing the hell out of younger play­ers who are blast­ing the ball back.”

The third Ir­ish Na­tional Pick­le­ball Cham­pi­onships take place in April 2019 at Mul­ty­farn­ham and will at­tract play­ers from the US, UK, and main­land Europe. face­­le­bal­lEire/ Con­tact Michael McDaid by email at pick­le­bal­ or call 087 6776304

Pic­ture: Bob Mor­ri­son

NET RE­SULT: Ray Clarke, a re­tired grand­fa­ther of eight from Mul­ty­farn­ham, Co West­meath, says pick­le­ball is fun as well as be­ing good for the body and mind.

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