Pickleball in the Czech Republic: A Lesson in Fun

When a teacher and a sports trainer join forces, you know things will get done! Pickleball found its way into the Czech Republic thanks to a determined duo made up of US Open silver medalist Lenka Mišičková and teacher/counselor Jodi Oppenhuizen. These two players have plenty of expertise between them and use a friendly yet consistent process for integrating the game into local communities.

Lenka and Jodi

Jodi Oppenhuizen (left) and Lenka Mišičková (right)

Joining Forces

The first time pickleball found its way into the Czech Republic was in 2014 after Jodi was introduced to the game by her parents and learned to play in Michigan. She brought donated paddles and balls to the Christian International School in Prague where she works and started a pickleball club. Wanting more partners to play with, she also taught her friends about the game and created the Pickleball Czech Facebook page to share information.

A year later and worlds apart at the time, Lenka visited with a friend in Meadville, PA. There she was introduced to senior pickleball champion John Vicek. After sharing pictures from his matches, John and his wife invited Lenka to their home in Windsor, Canada to learn the game. Lenka quickly took to it, having been a ping pong champion in her teen years and an athlete her whole life.

Pickleball in Prague

Pickleball in Prague

It was only last year (2015) that Lenka and Jodi crossed paths. Lenka contacted Jodi after finding out about her efforts through a mutual contact in Amsterdam. After falling in love with pickleball, she wanted to help spread the word about the addictive game.

Gearing Up

Jodi lent equipment to Lenka so she could teach pickleball to kids at FIT Sports Club just south of Opava in Hradec nad Moravici, where she also trains them in ping pong, tennis, roller blading and floor ball (known in the U.S. as “floor hockey”).

Lenka’s first attempt was during the children’s summer camp, where they quickly became interested in the sport. As a follow-up, she continued to teach them pickleball during the 2015 – 2016 school year in the Czech Republic’s Moravian-Silesian region.

In spring 2016, Lenka purchased the domain for the Pickleball Czech website to better network with newcomers. Her and Jodi’s initiative was also strengthened by the head of the Ukraine Pickleball Association, David Conover.

A star of donated pickleball gear!

A star of donated pickleball gear!

In the following summer, Jodi participated in the Michigan State Games where she was recognized for her efforts to start pickleball in the Czech Republic. While there, she established a sister club relationship with the Grand Rapids Pickleball Club.

She also received support from Paddletek, Selkirk Sports and PickleballCentral when it came to acquiring more equipment, which is currently finding use on both sides of the country (Prague and Hradec nad Moravici)!

Despite having a decent amount of paddles and balls, one area where the Czech Republic lacks “equipment” is when it comes to the courts themselves. In fact, there are currently no pickleball-specific courts in the country. But Jodi and Lenka don’t let this slow them down!

“Although there are no courts that have been made exclusively for pickleball,” Jodi says, “there are many badminton courts. [Since] a doubles badminton court is the same size as a pickleball court, you can typically find a place to play indoors.”

Lenka adds, “[When] I train outside my house we just find level ground and use chalk for lines!”

Pop-Up Pickleball

When Lenka visited Jodi for the first time, they found another way to adapt to their surroundings. Jodi suggested they play pickleball on the Charles Bridge, one of the most famous tourist locations in the country.

Jodi and Lenka playing on Charles Bridge!

Jodi and Lenka playing on Charles Bridge!

“And we did!” She confirms. “We played many other unusual places in the city and were able to talk to people from various countries about pickleball. I appreciate Lenka’s humor and positivity.”

How’s that for pickleball guerilla marketing? No more excuses for not playing if you lack a “proper” court! Jodi shares another benefit of teaming up with Lenka aside from her open-minded attitude:

“She’s won several medals in tournaments, so it’s great to have an excellent Czech player in the country paving the way for future players.”

A Fighter’s Endurance

Indeed, it was Lenka who won the silver medal for women’s singles in the US Open. Amazingly, it was her very first pickleball tournament and she had to fight through an injury the whole way.

“The US Open was the first [pickleball] tournament in my life. I didn’t know what my level of play was, but because I have lots of experience in ping pong I felt I could adapt quickly. I had very good partners with me. In the women’s doubles we won 4th place and in mixed doubles we got 5th.”

“At the beginning of the second day my leg muscles started to hurt. I couldn’t take a step without intense pain. But because I’m great fighter I wanted to make it through to the end! I honestly have no idea how I won silver in those conditions. After every match I visited the tournament doctor who iced and bandaged my leg.”

Lenka fighting through the pain at the Amsterdam Tournament

Lenka fighting through the pain at the Amsterdam International Pickleball Tournament

“Afterwards I went to a hospital back in the Czech Republic and they determined it was inflammation of the muscles and tendons. I wasn’t allowed to play for nearly a month. After waiting things out I competed in the Amsterdam International Pickleball Tournament and had the same issue return… but I won another silver medal! Miracle.”

Lenka may attribute her wins to luck and divine intervention, but we give her credit for tons of grit, determination and skill. (Though we hope her legs have gotten some much-needed rest and fully recovered!)

In addition to teaching pickleball during the school year and during summer camp for kids in Opava and Ostrava, Lenka is sharing her talent by joining with the Osatrava Municipal Hall to organize exhibitions in primary schools.

Lenka with her silver medal at the US Open

Lenka with her silver medal at the US Open

Incredibly enough, coaching pickleball and numerous other sports isn’t even this champion’s day job. Lenka primarily teaches law and economics to people transitioning in the work force. In her remaining time, she has also published 3 books on sports. (Stop making us look bad, Lenka!)

Her endless supply of resiliency is perhaps no surprise when you hear Lenka has spent her life tracking down extended family after contact was lost between relatives in the U.S. in 1948 and 1968 due to the Czech Republic’s communist regime. Thankfully she has been able to find several aunts and uncles at this point, and shows no signs of slowing down.

We’re glad this determination has spread into other areas of her life and that picklers get to benefit!

Setting the Scene

The big push for Lenka and Jodi to establish pickleball in the Czech Republic will come when they’re able to host their own competition. Although there haven’t been any tournaments in the Czech Republic yet, several countries nearby have seen them, such as Amsterdam and Ukraine.

Lenka with Leonardo Gonzalez from Spain in the Kiev International Tournament

Lenka with doubles partner Leonardo Gonzalez from Spain in the Kiev International Tournament (with their gold medals!)

Europe in general has been making great progress, considering there was a pickleball tournament in Spain this past September and in the UK in October. As the number of players in the Czech Republic continues to grow, Pickleball Czech looks to the future with hope and plenty of spirit.


 

PickleballCentral offers a big round of applause for Lenka’s wins and both women’s dedicated efforts to continue growing the sport around the world. Thank you both for taking the time to share your work with us!

Let’s Help Spread the Pickleball Love to Japan!

Exciting news today as USAPA Nationals medalist Daniel Moore begins a crowdfunding campaign to bring pickleball to Japan. If you’re looking to share the gift of pickleball with international fans this season, this is a great place to start!

Pickleball players of all ages in Japan

What some people don’t know is that Daniel lived in Japan for 16 years growing up and currently serves as a tour guide for visitors through the organization Walk Japan. Japan has an aging population with many indoor gyms equipped with badminton courts that could be utilized for pickleball.

According to Daniel’s campaign, there are currently 2 locations that regularly play pickleball in Japan with a third arriving in January. He explains:

“The locations have around 15-20 players each… An additional three locations have played pickleball before but we haven’t had the time or the funding to continue supporting them so they don’t have any balls or paddles. Most importantly, they don’t have someone there to explain the rules, coach and teach… which is what will get people playing.”

Senior picklers in Japan

The funds will primarily go to the Japan Pickleball Association headed by Moore so that the group can travel around the country to provide clinics and demos. They are also planning to register the JPA as an official non-profit organization and put together local/national tournaments to coincide with Daniel’s annual pickleball Japan trip.

The campaign only needs $10,000 to be successfully funded, and if you make a donation above $25 you’ll receive a Japan Pickleball t-shirt!

Daniel and Japanese pickleball players

Please consider donating if you like the sound of a pickleball-crazy Japan and would enjoy visiting in the future, or if you just want to share the joy of pickleball around the globe. Click here to donate today.

Indian Pickleball Continues to Grow at the 4th National Tournament in Jaipur

AIPA’s (All India Pickleball Association) hard work and effort has clearly gotten the pickleball rolling as more Indian players take up the competitive mantle. On November 11 – 13th at the Sawai Mansingh Indoor Stadium in Jaipur, the 4th National Pickleball Tournament was a rousing success.

Kavita and Ashwin of Rajasthan

Kavita and Ashwin of Rajasthan (Runners-Up in Mixed Doubles)

Of the 29 states in India, 12 teams were present from 10 states to show off their pickleball talent, with observers from two additional states in the wings. The participating states included:

Bihar
Haryana
Jharkhand
Kerala
Madhya Pradesh
Maharashtra
Pondicherry
Rajasthan
Sikkim
Uttarakhand

The West Bengal and Tamil Nadu visitors expressed interest in throwing their hats in the ring for next year’s tournament in Uttarakhand.

AIPA Nationals 2016

Maharashtra Sets the Standard

The winners this year were actually repeat champions from 2015, with Team Maharashtra once again claiming victory! Rajasthan still made an impressive showing on their home ground, often coming in silver just behind the winners. At least the other states know who they have to knock off the podium when the next opportunity arrives!

In Men and Women’s Singles players from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh actually overcame the Maharashtra pros, but Doubles was a sweep. The Maharashtra pairs didn’t offer any quarter as they defeated opponent after opponent and claimed gold in all three categories.

Team Maharashtra 2016

Team Maharashtra 2016

Manish Rao and Bhushan Potnis of Maharashtra won the Men’s Doubles title by defeating Dr. Bharat Ram and Prashant Kalaniair from Rajasthan. Somewhat ironically,  in the 3rd national tournament held at Panipat last year, it was Ram/Kalaniair who defeated Rao and Potnis. Can you say “sweet revenge”? The final scores were 11-5 and  11-7.

Manish Rao and Bhushan of Maharashtra

Rao/Bhushan vs Bharat/Prashant in the Men’s Doubles

Similarly, Atul Edward and Natasha Beig from Maharashtra won the mixed title by defeating Kavita and Ashwini Wadhwa of Rajasthan. It wasn’t as easy of a battle, however, as the Wadhwas managed to hold the game until the 3rd set when Edward/Beig won the final. The scores: 11-1 , 5-11 and 11-6.

Atul and Natasha vs Kavita and Ashwin

Edward/Beig vs the Wadhwas in the Mixed Doubles

The Women Doubles gold medal went to Maharashtra’s Karishma and Rujuta who beat Rajashthan’s Madhulika and Garima. It was something of a rout with the final match scores coming in at 11-2 and 11-3.

Karishma and Rujuta vs Madhulika and Garima

Karishma and Rujuta vs Madhulika and Garima in the Women’s Doubles

Hard-Won Singles Matches

Moving on to the singles: the Men’s title was won by Nikhil Singh Rajput of Rajasthnan, who was presented with a tough fight from Aniket Durgawali,  a younger player from Maharashtra. The thrilling match lasted 3 sets and continued for an impressive 50 minutes!

Nikhil Singh Rajput from Rajashtan

Men’s Singles Winner Nikhil Singh Rajput from Rajashtan

Could you stand the heat? Nikhil managed to overcome the stress by putting his 5 years of pickleball expertise to work. The scores: 11-5, 8-11 and 11-2.

As expected, the Women’s Singles title was won by the defending champion from Madhya Pradesh, Shubhi Vyas. She handily won her gold by beating her rival from Rajasthan, Rekha Chowdhary, with scores of 11-5 and 11-3.

Shubhi Vyas

The Women’s Singles champion for the 3rd year in a row: Shubhi Vyas!

Pickleball in India Gaining Fans

This is the 4th consecutive year where AIPA has organized a national-level open tournament. Pickleball continues to gain wider acceptance in India, with players from across the country gathering to witness this event.

Playing the tournament at the Sawai Mansingh Indoor Stadium was something of a dream in itself for many players, with the location being one of the most prestigious sports arenas in the country. The Rajasthan State Pickleball Association made special efforts to book the world-class facility, with top quality housing and food arrangements as well.

There were 4 courts in the spacious indoor hall where nearly 130 matches were conducted in 2 days.

India National Tournament 2016

The Hidden Champions

Special thanks go to Mr. Karan Singh and Ms. Neetu Sharma, who took great pains to make the tournament a grand success. Mr. Raghu Raj, the President of Rajasthan State Pickleball Association, was also a major force in establishing a high-quality event.

The Chief Guest for the closing ceremony was the Commissioner of Police from Jaipur City, who was very impressed by the game of pickleball. He believes that pickleball will be an added attraction for tourists who visit Jaipur and suggested that a public court should be designed in the heart of the city.

Maharashtra at Jaipur National Tournament

Will Team Maharashtra be unseated next year? Who knows… for now, they celebrate!

Image credit goes to the Rajasthan State Pickleball Association and AIPA.

Six of the Most Exciting Women’s Open Doubles Teams at the 2016 Nationals

Twenty-two of the best women’s doubles pairs in the nation are registered to compete on Friday, November 11th in Casa Grande AZ at Nationals. Anticipate long rallies and brilliant tactics.

Women’s pickleball is fascinating to watch. For veterans in the sport, this is quintessential pickleball. If you attend Nationals or are live streaming, consider watching these six teams for extraordinary pickleball.

Simone Jardim and Corrine Carr

Simone Jardim and Corrine Carr

  1. Simone Jardim / Corrine Carr
  2. Sarah Ansboury / Christine McGrath
  3. Irina Tereschenko / Lucy Kovalova
  4. Christine Barksdale / Joy Leising
  5. Tonja Major / Catherine Parenteau
  6. Heidi Hancock / Stephanie Lane

The first three teams listed won gold, silver and bronze at the Tournament of Champions in Brigham City in September. Any one of these teams could win gold at Nationals.

Simone is arguably the finest player in pickleball right now. Her amazing two handed backhand is changing this fledgling sport. Combined with Corrine’s steady play and ability to drive balls consistently within an inch of the net, this pair is wonderful to watch. See if Corrine ever stops smiling, even when she loses a point!

Sarah Ansboury

Sarah Ansboury

Sarah is right with Simone in competing for the no. 1 ranking. She may be the steadiest player in the sport. And Christine, like Corrine, can drive beautiful winners from the kitchen line with another flawless two-handed backhand.

Irina and Lucy are the challengers with more talent and tennis instincts than any other team in the tournament. They are the Marcin and Morgan of the women’s bracket, and would likely beat them given the chance! Don’t expect a lot of long rallies from this pair. If you want to see aggressive pickleball at its finest, watch Lucy drive balls and Irina clean up at the net.

Christine Barksdale

Christine Barksdale

Any of the next three teams could break into the medal round. Christine and Joy are thrilling to watch and have played more doubles together than any other team in this bracket. Tonja and Catherine may be pairing up for the first time here. I have not seen Catherine play, but I’ve been the victim of Tonja’s smashes too often.

Finally, when Heidi and Stephanie get rolling, they can be formidable.Watch Heidi Hancock and Tonja Major to see how players with little or no tennis background have excelled at this funky sport.

I await your challenges to my picks! – Glen Peterson

Our Top Men’s Open Doubles Picks for Nationals in Casa Grande

Whether in Casa Grande or watching a live stream, here are eight pairs to keep an eye on among the 39 teams competing on November 11th this year.

If the Tournament of Champions played last month with the Onix Pure II ball is any indicator, Wes Gabrielsen and Kyle Yates will be the top seed and favorite to win the USAPA VIII Nationals. Their patient, defensive strategy in the gold medal match against the Dawson brothers was nearly flawless.

Wes Gabrielsen and Kyle Yates

Wes Gabrielsen and Kyle Yates

Both Kyle and Wes were in the gold medal match at the US Open back in April, but on opposite sides of the net. Don’t expect fireworks from these two until provoked. Are they playing pickleball or performing some sort of synchronized dance? They will mesmerize and outlast any opponent. But watch closely—with two lightning quick forehands in the middle and a seemingly impenetrable defense, when the heat comes, sparks will fly.

And no team brings more heat than Marcin Rozpedski and Morgan Evans. With Morgan artistically striking Dura Fast 40 Balls from the baseline with his sword-like paddle and Marcin unceremoniously clubbing volleys from the eye formation, points rack up quickly. No dancing here, just raw athleticism. With sufficient consistency and just the right amount of patience, this team at their peak is unbeatable. Will they play an entire match without dropping points for receiving or serving in the wrong position?

Daniel Moore trophy

Daniel Moore (Credit: Daniel’s Blog)

Daniel Moore won Nationals in 2015 with Matthew Blom and took 2nd at the US Open with Wes Gabrielsen. He and Matt Staub swept the Tournament of Champions in 2015. If these two get into their rhythm early and maintain their patient, chess-like strategy all day long, enjoy watching them progress through the bracket. In their zone, these two never miss. Keep smiling, boys.

These are my top three picks. Other exciting teams to watch include Dave Weinbach and Enrique Ruiz; they each have tons of gold medals and perform well with the Dura Fast 40 Ball. Oliver Strecker and Matt Wright are relative newcomers but bring extraordinary talent as well. Can Oliver hit three soft kitchen shots in a row without striking? If he is on, watch out!

Brian Ashworth with Titan

Brian Ashworth (Credit: Dink Sports)

Also watch Brian Ashworth and Glenn Griffin. They’re two of the most humble players in pickleball, but oh can they move. Finally, check out the pairs of Chris Miller/Dalton Vavra or Kurtis Campbell/Matt Goebel if you would like to see great action combined with attitude.

These players are sure to keep things exciting. But with 39 teams and 78 players, anticipate surprises. Hey, this is PICKLEBALL!

Stay tuned for my picks in the other categories.

– Glen Peterson

Mickey Mouse Loves Pickleball

It’s no surprise that Disney is often associated with gifts. The gift of childhood, the gift of magical animation, the gift of… pickleball? While you might not think Mickey and friends have anything to do with the game, in truth, they’ve funded a new pickleball court at Tweila Reid Park in Anaheim, home of Disneyland!

Image courtesy of Pickleballmax, sharing pickleball with Disney power couple

Image courtesy of Pickleballmax, sharing pickleball with Disney power couple

According to the OC Register, the court was just recently completed with the good news announced on Oct 1st. During the talk, it was also revealed that five local parks would be getting new playgrounds as well. Never let it be said that The Mouse leaves out his biggest little fans.

The pickleball court was created thanks to a $200,000 donation that also supplied residents with a new soccer field and upgraded softball field.

Councilman Jordan Brandman added, “This pickleball court and field renovations came about as a result of input from the residents. They said they wanted more sports intensive activities at the park.”

You heard it here first: If you want more pickleball, all you have to do is ask. We recommend asking city officials or wealthy mice over Santa, since he tends not to have as much sway these days. (Santa, if you want to prove us wrong, our paddles are ready!)

We think Buzz's jetpacks would give him a slight advantage during a game... (Credit: Pickleballmax)

We think Buzz’s jet pack would give him a slight advantage during games… (Credit: Pickleballmax)

Remember that Disneyland’s big cousin, Disney World, is located in FL aka Pickleball Paradise. Why haven’t we seen more toon-supported pickleball action there? It was noted that many pickleball courts could fit in Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, which was re-branded in 2010.

Is there any progress being made down there, Floridians? If not, get on it!

Ontario Pickleball Club Creates Free, Year-Long Program for Kids

Pickleball has a reputation as an old timers’ sport, and that’s fine by us—more time on the courts! But sometimes you just have to wonder: Won’t someone think of the children?

Today an Ontario club is sharing how they not only started an adult pickleball league, but created an entirely new pickleball program for kids.

This past August, Dan Pronovost of the K-W Badminton Club was awarded a $13,331 provincial grant to start a free pickleball program for the community’s youth. It’s an exciting development that will help show how the game’s versatile appeal while giving kids a positive outlet for their energy.

KWBC Building

Setting the Scene

“I’ve been a member of the K-W Badminton Club (KWBC) for many years,” Dan explains. “About 5 years ago, it became clear we’d need to purchase our building to continue growing our club and add additional sports. I joined the board to help manage this process and oversee renovating our 45,000 sq. ft. building.

“I’m happy to say since the purchase of our building in 2013, we’ve renovated about 25,000 sq. ft. of space for sport use. About 75% of the building is in use by our sports tenants and users. This includes axe throwing, roller derby, bike polo, professional wrestling and pickleball, along with our badminton club of course.”

Dan says that his group first reached out to KWPA, the Kitchener Waterloo Pickleball Association, in 2014 to bring the sport onto their six court badminton facility. Thanks to this cooperation, they now have daily pickleball programs for all skill levels.

“Hundreds of players visit the facility for pickleball every week, from beginners to advanced players who visit despite being hours away. Pickleball has been an excellent way to add additional weekday daytime programming in a facility that would otherwise be empty.”

KW Pickleball Interior

Wish Granted

Clearly, the club’s leadership went a long way toward getting pickleball established in the first place. But considering grants are something many pickleball groups would love to obtain, how did Dan make his case? Turns out it was a combination of past experience and finding an underserved demographic.

Dan Pronovost

Dan Pronovost

“We became aware of the Ontario Sport and Recreation Communities Fund (OSRCF) through our successful Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) grants in past years. In talks with KWPA, we decided that pickleball for youth is a very underdeveloped demographic, since the sport is primarily aimed at seniors.

“But pickleball is of course equally exciting and fun for kids! The partnership opportunity with KWPA made perfect sense: KWBC is a mature and fiscally strong non-profit organization with grant experience and a world class sporting venue. KWPA has excellent talent for developing and leading a professionally-coached youth pickleball lessons program.”

The money for the grant has been allocated for, in order of usage:

– Coaching/instructor costs for the lessons (although 50% of the coaching is volunteer/non-paid)

– Additional administrative staffing and facility upkeep

– 20 new pickleball paddles and sufficient balls for one year

– Development of the coaching program/youth lessons sets

– Coaches certification and training

There are an incredible 192 kids that will get to enjoy this new program, where before there were no local opportunities for kids to play pickleball. The KWBC has also run paid youth badminton lessons for over 10 years which have been successful, so they feel confident there will be similar interest in pickleball.

KW Pickleball Games

Dan says the OSRCF grant will let them to make the pickleball lessons available for free to all participants for the 2016/17 school year, even with paddles and balls being included. With professional coaching, a great venue and free lessons, it’s not hard to see why spots fill up fast.

Their aim is to use the OSRCF grant to “seed”‘ the pickleball youth program in 2016/17, then continue with a nominally paid program beyond that to break even.

It’s a smart and beneficial model for all parties involved. While securing the grant was relatively straightforward, there are other concerns Dan has about supporting a thriving sports community.

Effort and Expansion

“The challenge is maintaining an 80+ year old building for sport use. Since the purchase of our building in 2013, we’ve invested over $500,000 in renovations and thousands of volunteer hours. While we are very happy to have received generous grants from sources like OTF and OSRCF, we can always use more help to further improve the quality of our venue.

“We are hoping to further renovate our 10,000 sq. ft. concrete rink pad space, which is used for pickleball and roller derby, by replacing part of the roof, adding heating for better winter usage, insulation, and high-quality floor painting and lines. Adding air conditioning for summer-time use is one of our more frequent member and user requests!

KWPA Players

“The demand for sport space in the core of Kitchener is growing, but there are no municipal plans to add venues. Every time we open an area of our building for tenants and renters, the space is taken almost immediately, especially for lesser-known sports struggling to compete for space.”

Dan says that he believes forward thinking, financially secure non-profit organizations such KWBC are key to helping address shortages of sport space for everyone in the community.

He also welcomes and encourages all pickleball players to visit their club, so if you’re ever in the area, feel free to stop by! KWBC hosts a popular regional pickleball tournament in spring, which is a draw for players from abroad to come out and compete.

“Many other sporting organizations are starting to see the value of adding pickleball to their venues. Indoor and outdoor tennis clubs are a good candidate for adding pickleball to help support their facilities and courts. Any club with a suitably-sized gym should be thinking about adding it to fill unused court times.”


We agree! To our readers looking to expand pickleball offerings in their area, we hope you’ll keep this advice in mind and push local community centers and other facilities to bring our favorite sport to the masses.

Thanks to Dan for his time and hard work ensuring pickleball is available to players of all ages!