Time to innovate an elite racquet sports centre with pickleball at the forefront.

Pickleball a sport that seem to come out of nowhere and has taken Malaysia and other countries by storm. Stefanie Graf, Andre Agassi, Maria Sharapova and John McEnroe have got into the act too. The tennis stars were spotted at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino last February trading in their racquets for paddles, Graf and Agassi swept past John McEnroe and Maria Sharapova to emerge victorious at the pickleball Slam 2 in Hollywood, Fla. Pickleball was invented by a former congressman from Washington by the name of Joel Pritchard in 1965.

But why the craze? Tennis courts in Malaysia are like white elephants, some are being used by avid tennis coaches and their students who want to be the next Nadal or Djokovic, but with an aging population in Malaysia, tennis is a game that can take a toll on you. The stop start manner and the heaviness that comes with the impact of hitting the racquet with a tennis ball can be a strain on the elbow and wrists and can cause injury for those weekend warriors and it can be heavy on the heart. Pickleball is opposite of all that is in tennis.

Pickleball Is Not Paddle Ball

Pickleball is not to be mixed up with paddle ball, which requires a square court with walls around with squash-like game mechanics. Paddle ball is a cross between tennis and squash and the former uses a ball that is almost like a tennis ball, but not the same.

Pickle ball just requires a normal court that can be a makeshift with portable nets or use a tennis court and does not require a wall around it. The game is much like tennis, and unlike paddle ball where the wall is used for the ball to bounce back and continue play, pickleball is easier. The part where pickle ball differs is the ball, it is plastic like with a couple of holes in it, the racquet is a cross between a ping pong bat and a tennis racquet and is not as big as a tennis racquet and not as small as a ping pong bat.

The ball is plastic and the holes give it a sort of aerodynamic balance when it hits the floor. What is annoying about the game is the sound when the racquet hits the ball or floor. For me it took some getting used to when testing it … it has that sound that goes ….tak … tak … tak …!

Compared to a tennis game or paddle ball where the sound is much softer and I might say, more tolerable, but it does not mean you do not have get into the sport, beyond this, it is fun.

From Badminton Courts To Pickleball Courts

In Malaysia, even indoor badminton courts have been converted to pickleball courts. A few months ago I visited Bangsar Sports Complex and was shocked to see in the Dewan (Hall) all the badminton courts were used as pickleball courts, but unlike tennis, it does not mean badminton is dying off.

Badminton is alive and well and I dare say in better health in Malaysia compared to tennis. Pickleball however is like a wild forest fire that keeps raging on and nobody is going to stop it, it can be played by young and old, but so far in what I have seen, the age group is mid-30s onwards in Malaysia.

Malaysia became a full member of the Interrnational Pickleball Federation (IPF) on 26 January 2024 and at the moment there are 77 member countries and 91 organisations. The IPF is based in USA, in the state of Maryland. There is one other international organisation that I saw on the internet but the one that is popular and gaining traction is the IPF.

Taekwondo had this problem of so-called disagreements and we have various factions or Taekwondo organisations world wide today, we only hope that Pickleball does not go into this direction.

The game though … Let us not take anything away, whether you belong to an organisation or not, it is fun and everyone should give it a try. One of the best parts about this sport, just like tennis or badminton, is that it is non-contact and as mentioned earlier easy on the hands. Even kids could double up with parents and play, and what better way to spend quality time with your children and also do a physical activity with them and encourage them.

The rules like tennis dictate that the ball can only bounce once before the opponent returns it to the opponent, but if kids are involved, you can make your own rules and give two or maybe even three bounces before volleying back the ball to the opponent (See video below).

In this case, the annoying noise keeps everyone on their toes, especially the kids! So no attention span problems here, you got to be always thinking on your feet and it is kind of like a moving dynamic meditation.

At this moment the Malaysia Pickleball Federation runs a facebook page with about two thousand plus followers, various other facebook pages and clubs have also popped up too.

For Asian Games

Already some competitions have been organised or played by some Malaysians, at this moment the IPF is working on the sport gaining acceptance for the Asian Games in Nagoya, Japan in 2026. Malaysia is very popular in badminton and squash and pickleball looks like a winner and we might produce the next world champion and with the sport taking hold at the grassroots level, this can go a long way.

For a sport to flourish it has to have easy accessibility, mass participation and ease of mixed age groups (eh,,football? That is another story). Pickleball ticks all the boxes and the next step is for schools to look into this and perhaps even the Ministry of Education starting a competition for schools.

Nicol David and Sivasangari are famous for squash, and Nicol played squash when it was not so popular and now Sivasangari has brought Malaysia into the spotlight by winning the London Squash Classic by defeating the world number 1 in the process.

Let us get a grip on this sport and not be left behind before it is too late, we should even look at a state-of-the-art elite racquet sports centre, let us not waste money on sports which is not delivering time and time again, look further, innovate and think ahead. – NMH

Other articles by the writer:
Let The Commonwealth Games Begin, But At What Cost?
Commonwealth Games: Malaysians Unite After Decision Not To Host

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Subendran A Ravindran
Subendran A. Ravindran is a sports consultant specialising in fitness, football and track & field. He is a licensed coach in all and former reporter for various journals writing mainly on geo-politics, aviation, business and football. He has a facebook site https://www.facebook.com/kldropfit/ that gives free tips on fitness.

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