RRPC was founded in early 2015 and has grown to be one of the largest pickleball clubs in England with over 250 members and both indoor and outdoor venues for play. Paul Telling and Alan Speller, two of the founders of the Club, explain some of the history of the Club and the lessons which they have learned.
Where did it all begin?
Paul Telling explains: “I first heard about pickleball from an American friend of mine, a senior executive at the USTA in 2014. Intrigued by the sound of the game I purchased some paddles and balls and had them sent to the UK. As it happens, I had organised a cricket tour to Majorca and decided to trial this game with the group on a chalked up tennis court. We all took an immediate liking to this new game and determined that we would continue to play when they returned to the UK”.
Initially a small group of half a dozen friends played on an informal but regular basis at Lightwater Leisure Centre. As more and more people saw the game being played and wanted to try it, the group realised that they needed to formalise the Club with a Constitution and Committee. And so it was that Runnymede Royals Pickleball Club was born.
The name paid homage to the original tennis and squash private members club called The Runnymede Club which Paul had owned and where many of the early pickleball players had been members.
The Committee consisted of Paul Telling as Secretary, Alan Speller as Captain, Ian Atkinson as Treasurer and Derek Jackson as a Committee member. In the early days the Club didn’t consider buying bespoke nets and used modified badminton nets and second hand paddles.
Says Alan: “looking back I am shocked to recall that initially we were not even using the full court and only realised this when we were about to play our first match against Abingdon. We corrected this”.
And so the Club progressed in this way for the next year with lots and lots of taster sessions for interested players and lots of new members.
Two events then occurred in late 2015 / early 2016. Firstly, Paul and Alan participated in a tournament in Madrid where proper Pickleball nets were being sold off afterwards. These were the first 2 nets the Club purchased. Secondly, the Committee learned of an opportunity to potentially secure funding from SC Johnson, a local company. The £2,200 of funding provided a fillip for the Club enabling it to invest in more nets and equipment.
“Growth at this point was exponential” observes Alan.
The goal was to build a Club which catered for all level of players.
“We recognised clearly that some people just want to play socially or recreationally and that playing a couple of times a week gave them an opportunity to get some exercise and to chat to people who shared an interest,” says Alan.
Other people do want to progress to playing in competition and tournaments and there came a point when the Club also needed to provide opportunities for stronger play and a session was dedicated to that.
Most people identified the Club through word of mouth, advertisements in local press or from seeing the sport being playes from a viewing gallery at the leisure centre or from the website.
“We made good use of our local free press and the Where to Play section of the Pickleball Oxon site directed many new players to the Club” says Paul.
Most of the sessions took place during the day as the majority of members in the early days did not work. Gradually sessions on a Saturday morning and on Monday evenings were introduced.
As membership grew and the bank balance swelled, more nets, paddles and balls were acquired and a ball machine was purchased for drilling purposes. Regular coaching and drilling sessions were set up alongside scheduled playing sessions. The Club had always run larger taster sessions and had an active programme for introducing new individuals to the game which was largely managed by Derek Jackson.
Coaching has played an important role for both Paul and Alan. Paul was an experienced tennis coach and, indeed became one of the first people in the UK to be qualified as an IPTPA Level 2 coach.
“One of the most positive things about pickleball is that it is so easy to learn. There are so few barriers to playing, once the rules are explained and with some guidance and encouragement, a complete beginner can enjoy a game and start having some fun” says Paul.
Alan ran regular drill sessions and Paul ran 5 week coaching programmes covering a broad spectrum of tactics.
Alan also introduced a candid camera session where players were videoed and could see themselves on playback and receive feedback on their play, shot making, positioning and tactics.
The Club piggy-backed on a programme of US Pros who were in Europe for a tournament and 4 of them came to deliver a coaching programme at Lightwater Leisure Centre. This was a very well attended and well received experience for over 40 members and guests from other clubs.
The Club strongly encouraged members to participate in international tournaments and has been well represented by members at the Dutch, French, German, Spanish, Finnish, England and Thai Open tournaments. A good haul of medals has also been won.
The Club organised a variety of interclub friendlies as well as a trip to The Villages in Floriday in 2018 and a pickleball holiday in Majorca for 30 people in 2019. In 2019 a team from the Club also visited Nepal and played a match against an Indian team – pickleball at the top of the world!
Social events were also peppered throughout the calendar and provided opportunities to get together off court.
“Getting together regularly for social events gives a certain fabric to the Club and consolidates the sense of camaraderie,” says Paul.
One of the things Paul highlights is that the club has supported nominated charities each year and has been able to donate a significant money to these charities. See ‘Supported Charities’ to find out which charities have been supported and how much donated.
The Club and its coaches have been instrumental in fostering and encouraging other clubs: Beaconsfield PC, South London Area Pickleball (SLAP), Farnham Picklers, Fleet Aces, The Bourne Club and WASSPS, and is very open to sharing information to assist and support other clubs.
The Club would be very happy to help anyone trying to get Pickleball off the ground in their area by phone, email or by visiting. Contact Alan Speller at email@example.com or Steve Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org
There is also help and guidance available from Pickleball England where Clubs and individuals can join free of charge www.pickleballengland.org