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Communication Support and Pickleball England

I wanted to share my experience of becoming a UK first: providing British Sign Language support on a Pickleball coaching course! Do have a look at the Faceboook post from June 6th.

This followed a very successful Deaf taster session in South London, lead by a former GB Deaf football coach and current European Pickleball Champion for the over 50’s.

Pickleball is currently one of the fastest growing sports in the UK. It combines elements of badminton, tennis, and table tennis. It can be played both indoors or outdoors (more often indoors in the UK) on a badminton-sized court and a slightly lower net than a tennis net.

Mainly played in doubles: solid paddles are used to hit a hard plastic ball over a net. The equipment can be carried in a couple of holdalls: nets, paddles, balls and throw down lines to adapt any court quickly (see below on a tennis court):

I have been playing since last summer. During the heatwave I was happy to find a sport that was played in a sports hall with air conditioning!

The scoring is similar to a badminton game: the first to 11 with 2 clear points. I didn’t need to sign up for a club, just turned up to play.

There is a Non Volley Zone (aka the kitchen or NVZ) to navigate and the two bounce rule following the serve.

I registered for one of the Festivals. The idea is just to play some games with players of a similar standard and meet people from all Pickleball backgrounds. No scoring was recorded and no prizes given out. You can go off and have a coffee or meet friends at any time, all very relaxed.

When you sign up to a Festival you will add your rating. For example, 1.0 - 2.0 would be someone only just starting to play and has no other sports background. I put myself down as a 3.0. I can hit a ball with some consistency and know the basic rules, but hadn’t got much experience of match play.

Have a look under events/tournaments on the website. The dates are in the American format:

I started to notice how inclusive this sport can be. I joined a player with Cerebral Palsy and retired tennis players due to ailing knees, alongside younger competitive players entering National tournaments. I know that wheelchair users have started to play too.

I found myself with a tailor-made assignment: to communicate for a Deaf man attending a Pickleball Teach the Teacher workshop. Combining my hobby and my job…. perfect!

There were 4 hours in the classroom and a further 4 hours on court.

On this course there were Pickleball enthusiasts with such a variety of stories: One with a double hip replacement, a couple who tried out the sport on a cruise ship, one coach who had never actually played the sport before, and one who could only access this course in the UK and had travelled from Europe.

A complete range of age groups were in attendance (see pic below):

During the morning session I needed to use nearly every tool in my armoury! There were: intro’s, stroke mechanics, technical explanations, group work, note taking and feedback. I was looking forward to the practical afternoon session, this should be quieter.

No! this was highly technical.

I was on court amongst the action: The coaches took turns to present a practical coaching session, each player outlining their drills and each needing to fully explain their activity. It provided a great opportunity for full Deaf/hearing inclusion within the group. The players were being assessed throughout.

I had a great day and so did all the participants. The Deaf client had impressed all the attendees with his own style and way of explaining things in a visual manner.

It seems to me that this is an accessible sport for Deaf players.

  • In Deaf tennis: players sometimes unwittingly continue a rally as they haven’t heard the ball clip the net after a serve.

  • In Pickleball, a serve that clips the net and lands in the opposition serving area is…. in!

  • The ball makes a loud knocking sound when it hits the paddle, which could benefit a player with a Hearing Impairment.

  • Playing indoors, there are no weather distractions: wind whistling down hearing aids, etc.

  • Players do naturally congregate at the net after dinking and volleying rallies. This could provide opportunity for a quick sign chat.

  • The court is around a third of the size of a full-size tennis court. It feels more suited to clear communication, the environment feels closer and more intimate.

  • It feels conducive to attracting attention of a Deaf player and more effective lip reading and speaking.

When I filled in my Pickleball England application: one question was about any skills I could volunteer for. I put down British Sign Language. Maybe in the future I could help outt at some of the Festivals around the country, so I may see you there!

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