“It’s my service,” said Willie Treacy. On the other side of the court, his opponent rallies the wiffle ball towards him.
At the Cabra Parkside Community Sports Center, there are about 16 to 18 people playing pickleball on Wednesday night. Some of Willie’s opponents are up to 45 years younger than him. Pickleball, in its infancy in Ireland, brings together different ages, genders and abilities to compete and play with each other.
Like a mixture of tennis, table tennis and badminton, pickleball is played in pairs, on a badminton court, with each player holding a racket and hitting the ball over a net. Unlike tennis, the net is lower, the court is smaller and the rules are different. Unlike tennis, which takes time to master, rallies can — and should — start during your first pickleball session.
The rules can be tricky for beginners, but “we got into it really quickly,” says Treacy. “It’s a great game, you get exercise and it’s fun, which is essential. We play for about an hour, and it goes really fast because we’re having so much fun.
Pickleball was introduced to Ireland in 2016 by Michael McDaid, who founded Pickleball Ireland. The pandemic brought an abrupt end to pickleball’s progress but, in 2022, Pickleball Ireland was incorporated as a not-for-profit entity.
The game is all about going back and forth to make sure the ball goes over the net, but it’s accessible in a way that tennis and badminton are not.
“I’m 70 and it’s easy, you get in the game, you get a good run, good exercise, good workout without the gym. It’s really a win-win all round levels.
The game is massively popular in the United States, with professional players, pickleball influencers and even its own magazine, InPickleball.
But for Stephanie Barman, who moved from Salt Lake City, Utah to Ireland nine years ago, she only heard about it from her mother when she returned home for Christmas in December 2021.
“My mother is crazy in it, and she is 60 years old! She was like, ‘Stephanie! You have to come and play pickleball’. So she roped us up, and before we left, we bought some paddles on Amazon and yeah, we were like, “How are we going to play this?”
Upon her return to Ireland, she sought out clubs in Dublin.
“I was actively looking for pickleball clubs because I was having so much fun. It’s an easy to pick up game and any age can play it no matter your fitness level you can play with kids or adults like I played with my little cousin before and that’s just great.
“If you’re willing to go out and have a little fun, you’ll be great. You swap partners so you can always be with different levels of competition and as you swap if you only do one new thing each time you will learn something.
“People who’ve played tennis or anything with hand-eye coordination will figure it out so easily. You see people with certain shots and they hit them, and some of them run and it’s like ‘ there’s no way they’ll get it’ and some do. Any age can do it for sure.
PIckleball is part of Dublin City Council’s Sports and Wellbeing Partnership, says Michelle Waters, the council’s sports development manager.
When Waters first started pickleball as part of her role, it was with older adults, “some people in the 80s,” which continues on Mondays with the “older adult group.”
The sport is for everyone, with an emphasis on getting people moving, Waters says.
“We have dabbled with primary school children in the area, recently had the North Dublin Muslim School [who] came down for their active school week. They entered the room, took three lessons and had an introduction to pickleball. It is a very versatile, dynamic sport, ideal for people in good shape, but also for the elderly. In September, we hope to set up a service for people with disabilities.
“The difficulty is getting people to venture into the room to try, but once they’re in, they’re hooked! I’ve been noticing for weeks, I can see the skill level difference, it’s awesome.
The skill level jump also stands out for Bartender.
“Some of these people – I brought two girls for the first time – are so good! it’s such an easy sport to introduce someone new to – they’ve all been playing for 2-8 weeks and look how they are good.
The Dublin City Council partnership has invested in pickleball in Cabra, so admission is free. Other centers charge a nominal fee to play, and all centers provide paddles, balls, and nets.
“We’re trying to get it in other areas, to get other sports officials involved, it’s great, you can have young, old, mixed gender, it’s great. I hope that going to get better and better,” Waters says.
For Barman, she would like to see the game grow in tandem with increased access.
“It’s just a matter of facilities, one easy thing Dublin City Council could do is line up the courts in public. Public parks, if they had pickleball lines, people would start to care. You don’t necessarily need the net to be the right height, it’s pretty much you know if you have the line. So we set our markers and just like that, but at least it feels like the start.
Pickleball Ireland is planning a one-day festival in October this year and plans to hold a Pickleball Open, with American and European competitors, in June 2023. For Treacy, this is good news.
“I hope we get good enough to progress and play in competitive games, maybe with other clubs. It’s an American game, there would be a lot of interest in inter-country games, you know Maybe international matches?
“It all depends on how we progress, it will be for the younger ones who arrive. They’re really good and they’re really competitive, for us and for the group we’re in now, it’s just great.