You may never have heard of the sport, but Pickleball England Regional Director Elaine Shallcross explains how she has seen pickleball become a global sporting phenomenon
It was during a chance meeting in Hua Hin, Thailand, that Elaine Shallcross discovered pickleball – a sport that was not just going to transform her life – but help save it too.
Elaine, who played badminton at a high level for many years, was holidaying in Thailand when she met a former Scottish international badminton player at a coffee morning in Hua Lin.
“We got chatting about badminton and we knew some mutual players,” recalls Elaine. “I asked if she still played and she told me she spent most of her time in Florida playing a great game called pickleball.”
While Elaine and never heard of pickleball, the two ladies made a pact to return to Hua Hin the following winter to play a game: “And the rest is history,” explains Elaine, who returned from Thailand to Lancashire to set up what is now a thriving pickleball community.
Organising numerous ‘taster’ sessions teaching pickleball basics saw popularity soar and the first club was formed in Burnley.
“I became a self-appointed pickleball ambassador following a programme that runs in the USA,” explains Elaine, who has a background in sports development and coaching.
Using her network of contacts to establish more clubs, pickleball, which is played on a badminton-sized court, gradually expanded. Today Elaine, who is Pickleball England Regional Director for the North West, oversees numerous clubs and events including an annual three-day North West Pickleball Festival at the Tom Finney Sports Centre in Preston, which has in the past welcomed players from throughout the UK, Hong Kong, Thailand, Finland, Germany, Cuba and Canada.
In Lancashire the sport is thriving with clubs throughout the county including Clitheroe, Longridge and Mellor.
Pickleball is also a demonstration event at the Lancashire Schools Games, which gives younger players the opportunity to try something new.
Throughout the North West there has been a huge 42 per cent increase in players registering with Pickleball England – testament to the great development work going on in the sport.
So what is pickleball?
“Pickleball is a game for everyone,” explains Elaine, who lives in Longridge. “We welcome new players of all ages, shapes and sizes!”
With its origins in the US in the 1960s, pickleball, which can be played outdoors or in, is now the fastest growing game in the States with more than 2.8m players.
A pickleball court, is less than a third of the size of a tennis court but, most importantly, the pickleball travels less than a third of the speed of a tennis ball.
“The smaller surface area combined with the slower ball speed, and an underhand serve, makes pickleball easier to play than tennis,” enthuses Elaine.
“We originally started with a 50-plus group in Burnley. But we now have a new generation of young adult players and we actively encourage youngsters to get involved too. It’s a great way to keep fit, and the skills learned develop good hand-eye co-ordination which helps the younger players to improve and transition into other racquet sports.”
Elaine, who has played pickleball all over the world, has won many trophies including golds in the Spanish, Amsterdam, German and GB International open ladies doubles and golds in the Indian and Italian mixed doubles.
Last year she was Senior Captain for Team Europe in the Bainbridge Cup, a tournament that saw Europe v N America and the rest of the world.
Having been involved in sport on both a volunteer and professional basis over a period of five decades, Elaine was devastated when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2019.
“Being diagnosed with a possible life-threatening condition certainly changes your perspective.”
“The health benefits of sport and exercise has long been recognised and pickleball is no exception. In my recent experience it has given me so much more – something that may well have helped save my life.”
Initially reluctant to tell people, Elaine changed her mind ahead of surgery: “I hoped it would be a reminder to people to get those essential health checks that are so vital and, since then, many of my pickleball friends have told me it did indeed prompt them to get checked out.”
“The pickleball community have been truly amazing. I can’t believe how many players have reached out and shared their personal breast cancer battles. I take my hat off to their positivity.”
Following brutal chemotherapy sessions, it was messages of support from the global pickleball community that gave Elaine strength and motivation.
“They boosted my spirit at a time when I needed it most – they made me realise that my pickleball work is far from finished,” says Elaine, who is now recovering.”
“I say a massive thank-you to my team of people and players, the Hua Hin players for their support running the Thailand Open in my absence and the players in the UK, Europe and the rest of the world – I have been so touched by the support, warmth and respect they have shown me.”
When permitted, Ribble Valley pickleball clubs will be holding Open Evenings to promote the sport and recruit new players
For more information Elaine can be contacted on 07756 898621 or