If I asked you to name the sport in Spain which has 2.5 million players and 120,000 courts you would probably think, Rafa Nadal, and answer tennis. You would be wrong. The answer is Padel. Perhaps if you are reading this in Mexico, Argentina, Brazil or other South American countries you might have answered correctly.
Last weekend I spent three days at the Euro Pro Tour Championships in Alicante watching the World’s best players compete in a small stadium in front of sell-out crowds each day. I am sure that if the facility had more space the number would have dramatically increased, such was the demand for tickets. I was fortunate to have a seat being a guest of a new company called Padel 4U, whose aim is to spread the Padel word.
Well I am hooked. What game copes with the full spectrum of ages, both sexes and is so easy to play? We were told a little of the history, how the game started and took off first in Argentina before finding its spiritual home in Spain. But of most interest was its success story.
It started at tennis clubs who had lost the generation from 13, when it is considered uncool to play the game your parents play, to the mid 30’s when you are just about old enough to remove that stigma. Clubs, losing players, income and facing closure, had spare unused courts and needed to bring back members to keep the tennis side of the club running. It worked. Tennis clubs would often start with 2 courts, but after a couple of years had often added another 4 or 5 Padel courts. The new members increased bar takings, brought life back into the club and added a new social side to sport.
Success hasn’t been confined to tennis clubs. I saw a great Padel set up at a gym. The adjacent garage had closed down. The gym acquired the land and built 4 courts, converted its own indoor hall for another court and is a sell out every night. The hotel I stayed at also had a court, which was fully booked the whole time I was there. Elsewhere dedicated Padel clubs have started and a new generation of rich owners is emerging.
Many of the new players have never played tennis before. I spoke with some players who had been converted to Padel at the end of their football careers, whilst the number of female players was quite eye catching. The young coaches, who ensured games were well balanced, enthused and motivated their players, must have a great life. Will it take off in the UK? There are now at least 4 courts, two at Huddersfield LT&SC, which are leading our own revolution. We have a long way to go before we will compete with Spain, Argentina and other countries on the court, but what an exciting journey it could be.
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