Pickleball: From America to Vietnam – A rising sport

In Vietnam, although Pickleball is relatively new and just starting to gain popularity, Vietnamese amateur players have already won the first international medals.
Hogan Lai (1st left), President of the Asian Pickleball Association, and Vietnamese pickleball players

Hogan Lai (1st left), President of the Asian Pickleball Association, and Vietnamese pickleball players

Pickleball, a sport that shares court dimensions and rules quite reminiscent of tennis, utilizes paddles akin to those used in table tennis and features a plastic ball resembling a Sepak takraw ball. This sport has been on the rise in the United States, with 4.8 million players in the past three years, including the prominent participation of billionaire Bill Gates.

Effortless expansion

Despite being the world's fastest-growing sport recently, largely due to the promotional influence of billionaire Bill Gates, Pickleball actually originated in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA. Among the three individuals credited with pioneering Pickleball is Joel Pritchard, former Lieutenant Governor of the State of Washington and a dear friend of Henry Gates, the father of billionaire Bill Gates. Henry Gates was inspired by Joel Pritchard's passion for Pickleball, and then he passed on this love to his son.

Pickleball is often described as a sport that combines the fundamental skills of tennis, table tennis, and badminton, providing a sense of familiarity for players. However, what sets it apart is the lightweight paddles that lack elasticity and friction compared to traditional tennis rackets, resulting in a slower ball trajectory. Mastering this sport demands patience, wrist flexibility, agility, sharp eyesight, and proper striking posture. This unique combination aligns well with the Vietnamese people, known for their agility and dexterity in confined spaces.

Pickleball is easy to practice and not difficult to promote due to its moderate investment costs. The playing court has dimensions of 6.1 meters wide and 13.4 meters long, which is only a quarter the size of a tennis court, making it suitable for both indoor and outdoor play without being heavily influenced by weather conditions. Furthermore, the paddles come in a wide price range, from a few hundred thousand Vietnamese dong to a few million Vietnamese dong per piece, and the balls range from VND20,000-VND80,000 per item.

Pickleball is widely recognized for strengthening family bonds, and dedicating just 30 minutes to play together each day can reinvigorate energy, leading to more smiles and joy in life.

Andre Agassi, the American tennis legend, expressed, “Pickleball is where tennis players go to die,” after switching to Pickleball. Meanwhile, other well-known former tennis players, such as Steffi Graf, Maria Sharapova, and many more, are actively taking part in Pickleball tournaments, spanning from professional to semi-professional competitions.

Huynh Phu Quy, a tennis coach at Ky Hoa II Sports Club in District 10, shared that if someone is familiar with tennis, they can easily adapt to Pickleball, often picking it up within just 15 minutes. At the age of 45, when physical limitations made covering a tennis court challenging, a friend introduced him to Pickleball. Initially, he thought of it as a game for children, primarily for fitness and well-being. After just a month, he shed 4 kilograms. However, the more he delved into the sport, the more he enjoyed it, and he was making a more substantial commitment to pursue international achievements then.

The first milestones

Without exact data, partially due to the absence of the Vietnam Pickleball Association, it is reported that Pickleball entered Vietnam in 2018. In Ho Chi Minh City alone, hundreds of Pickleball enthusiasts are flocking to train at venues such as the Labor Cultural Palace, Phu Tho Sports Center, Tran Nao Pickleball Court, and Thu Duc Club. Annually, there are approximately 20 tournaments that bring together players from all three regions. Most of these events are organized by Pickleball court owners to foster and advance the sport.

Pickleball and Friends Vietnam participates in the Asian Pickleball Games 2023.

Pickleball and Friends Vietnam participates in the Asian Pickleball Games 2023.

Pickleball and Friends Vietnam was founded in June 2023, and it currently stands as the first and only professional club in Vietnam officially recognized by the Asian Pickleball Association. Despite the sweltering mid-October weather at the Ky Hoa II Sports Complex in District 10, the club's ten players persevere with their intensive training sessions three times a week, gearing up for both domestic and international tournaments.

Most of them are former celebrated athletes in sports such as tennis and table tennis, including the Ly brothers (Ly Minh Triet and Ly Minh Tan), Trinh Van Toan, Mai Thu Ha, Tran Thi Kim Loi, Le Ba Thanh Xuan, Nguyen Thai Binh Duong, and notably Truong Quang Vu, the former Head Coach of the Vietnamese national team. While they still perform familiar moves like smashes, spins, drop shots, and volleys, this time, they are showcasing their skills on the Pickleball court.

Vu Thanh Duong, President of Pickleball and Friends Vietnam, takes great pride in the club's remarkable achievements within less than a month as they secured one gold medal in a tournament in Indonesia at the end of September and won two silvers and one bronze medal at the Asian Pickleball Games, held in Taipei in early October.

"Even though our experience with Pickleball is relatively short, the skills and accomplishments of Vietnamese players are not far behind those of powerhouses like India, Taiwan (China), and the Philippines, especially within the age group of 35 to 50. The club's initial success is a testament to the unity among its members. We are all working together to elevate Pickleball in Vietnam," Duong shared.

Striving for professionalization at every stage, Pickleball and Friends Vietnam is mapping out its activities for 2024. Regarded as a pioneering club in Vietnam, it is already making a mark in the international arena, attracting the interest of potential sponsors.

"Pickleball is relatively new in Vietnam and is currently considered more as a game than a recognized sport. In the near future, the club will continue to self-fund its tournament participation and work towards creating a community around the sport to sustain our activities. We hope to garner attention from leaders at all levels, including the Vietnam Sports Administration. Our first goal is to establish the Vietnam Pickleball Federation and subsequently integrate this sport into sports festival, then establish an official national tournament," expressed the leadership of Pickleball and Friends Vietnam.

After witnessing the impressive performance of Vietnamese pickleball players at the 2023 Asian Championship, Hogan Lai, President of the Asian Pickleball Association, expressed his astonishment, stating, "I did not anticipate that in just a few months of training, they would demonstrate such remarkable skills and exceptional competitive spirit. I am hopeful that Vietnam's pickleball community will soon establish an association to contribute to the sport's development in Asia."

The Asian Pickleball Association is willing to provide support by sharing tournament information, updating rule changes, and facilitating the organization of international events in Vietnam, with Pickleball and Friends Vietnam playing a crucial intermediary role.

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