Jurong Spring Kids Club – Modern Kampong Kids playing Pickleball
One fine afternoon, I got a call from pickleball enthusiast Mr Jeffery Kuok, to start a Kids Programme with his Jurong Spring Pickleball Kids Club. Today, just 2 months later, I felt compelled to write this article to share this wonderful experience.
Jeffery heads the Jurong Spring Community Pickleball Interest Group, unlike other groups that are tied to Community Clubs, this group endearingly centres round two games court squared by Blocks 520, 521 and 522, Jurong West. Most of the players are residents living just a stone’s throw from these courts - I witnessed Uncle Joe peeping out of his window, waving to us and minutes later he appeared next to us at the courts; my first encounter with little Ziqing was when she was wearing her pink Crocs admitting to me that she was still in her PJs. Another time she came down with a piece of bread still in her mouth.
If I am to describe the scene, it will be “kampong”, plain and simple. There is a very quaint feel here - the kids are the usual noisy and mischievous, yet friendly and encouraging to each other; the parents are very nurturing, understanding and friendly, you can feel their smiles behind the masks. The atmosphere is also welcoming and very comfortable, and I’m very proud to say, for some weirdest reason, Pickleball is at the centre of it.
In Sep 2020, it was approved for SPA to paint on the yellow Non-Volley Lines on the games court, and from that day on, these courts were livened up with more Pickleball games than ever. The deal was that Jeffery is to promote Pickleball to the residents, and did Jeffery do it with relish. Imagine, walking past a court full of players playing a strange racquet game, looking like they are having fun, sounding like they are having fun, and it does look fun. Pickleball is an easy sport to promote to any onlooker with a live demonstration going on. While many of us will happily accommodate any “walk-in sales”, Jeffery took the full “roadshow salesman” role very seriously. I stood with Jeffery at the benches when Jeffery suddenly pointed and said, “Look at that lady there, with the kid, already looking at us for 20 mins, if I approach them, they will surely join, based on my experience, confirm, more than 95%”. To-date, Jurong Spring Community IG has more than 120 members and more than half are new beginners he recruited. Kudos to Jeffery.
If the Courts are the hardware, the kids have to be the software. Jeffery’s conversation starter with me on this idea was a story describing this kid that was very interested in Pickleball. Even though the group started with only adults playing, he told me of a kid who was really hoping to join in. Jeffery described seeing him appear at the courts dutifully changed into his sports attire and shoes, holding his paddle and waiting patiently at the bench for free slots to join. If there isn’t, he will observe the adults. As I got to know the kids and parents better, I had my suspicion of who this kid is, so I confirmed it with Jeffery, and “interviewed” his mom. The kid is none other than the very deserving Captain of the Kids Club, Koh Wun Jin. When asked what made him want to try Pickleball, Wun Jin said, “Basically one day, my sister (Wun Qi) wanted to play badminton with Zichen, Ziqing and me, so we went down and saw Uncle Joe and Zichen said this exactly, " Uncle, last time you said you will let me play”. So that's how I started.”
When we decided to start the programme, Jeffery garnered 10 kids, just like that. How did this happen? Was it the geography of the courts? Was it the plain sight when the players play? Was it Jeffery’s roadshow sales tactics? Was it the cool evenings that consistently accompany this space? Was it the welcoming adult players to have kids play with them? I think it was really all of the above.
The Programme is for kids to be kids, to do real physical play, play with other kids, exercise, and leave those smartphones and tablets at home. Though the kids and parents call us Coaches, I have to admit that the kids have also taught me to be a better parent and human being. For the older kids, where they are already athletically competent, they serve, they drive, they volley, and they get better every time I see them. We are able to get more serious with them, and they reciprocate. With the younger kids, I found out that the more fun they have, the faster they pick the sport up. The approach and method can be very dynamic as we are now using Pickleball as a method to teach them eye-hand coordination, spatial and body awareness. When a little one finds even the kid sized paddle too clumsy to wield, we change the drill to ball tosses and catches; when a kid is unable to anticipate the bounce, we replace the paddle with a net, serve balls all over the court and let the kid chase down and net the balls – the kids love it whilst unknowingly learning to anticipate the ball trajectory and bounce through play. It is especially helpful that the parents only ask for the kids to have fun, to feel belonged in a group, to let them be kids. There are other perks the programme brings – as long as they are wielding a paddle, there is no place for the smartphone or tablet in their hands; and they even take on sweeping and squeegeeing the court of leaves and rainwater on wet days! How about that!
It was particularly gratifying when I eavesdropped on Xuyue, a 6 year old young newcomer with her father while doing dink rallies. I heard Xuyue’s Daddy praising her with appreciation for hitting and sustaining the rallies. There has to be be something good about the programme, because Jeffery told me around the 3rd lesson, he had been receiving a lot of random calls from strangers asking him how they can enrol their kids into the course!
Looking at the kids, it just reminded me of my own childhood days, of us congregating and kicking around the hard 20 cent coloured plastic balls. Today it is similar scene, but over Pickleball. I hope the kids will continue to be firm friends when they come of age, and look back with fond memories of these days, just like what I am doing now. I’m very honoured that Pickleball can be part this, and look forward to further growing the sport in this wonderful community, as well as emulating this programme in other neighbourhoods.