Serving up an ace: How an expat founded Prague's first pickleball club

When she moved to the Czech capital, Frida was surprised and disappointed to see no pickleball group – she took matters into her own hands.

Thomas Smith

Written by Thomas Smith Published on 30.06.2024 17:30:00 (updated on 30.06.2024) Reading time: 8 minutes

An avid pickleball player, when Frida Castillo arrived in Prague in January this year, she was looking for a way to continue the sport she has long been fond of. She soon realized, though, that no English-speaking club for pickleball exists in the country. 

A few months on, she is the co-founder of a rapidly growing pickleball club in Prague, which caters to both expats and natives alike. Expats.cz sat down with Frida, who spearheaded the club's creation, and her friend Ariane Semrádová, who helped create the club. This is their story.

What made you start a club?

When I learned I was moving to Czechia, around October last year, I joined all the Prague expat groups I could and began searching for posts relating to pickleball – there wasn’t much, so I began panicking a bit.

I then found a post from a person called Damien, Ariane's boyfriend, also enquiring about pickleball. That is how Ariane and I met. After I also posted on a Facebook group asking if anyone played pickleball, several people also replied – there was definite interest.

“Last summer I went to the U.S. and played pickleball for the first time. I loved it, and wanted to continue playing it in Prague,” Ariane told Expats.cz.

Pickleball is a paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. It was invented in 1965 by Americans Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum. The game was named after Pritchard's dog, Pickles, who would often chase after the ball. Pickleball is played on a court with a net, similar to tennis, and uses a plastic ball with holes. The objective is to hit the ball over the net and within the designated boundaries, while also trying to prevent your opponent from returning it.

How did you go about forming it?

Fortunately, the relocation agent I had while I was moving here connected me with the president of the Czech Pickleball Association, David Palkovský. They explained to me that pickleball does actually exist in Czechia – just not in Prague. 

After a few back-and-forth e-mails, we started looking together for places we could play in the capital. David introduced me to one of his contacts, who said he was also interested in starting pickleball in the badminton club he owns, at SK Prosek (badminton courts are almost the same size as pickleball courts) in Prague 9. So, I went to his club to check out the location (called Sky Sport City). It was indoors, and I had never played inside! 

What came afterwards?

After that, I reached out again to people via Facebook to check if they’d be interested in playing – people responded positively, so I made a WhatsApp group: “Prague Pickleball Enthusiasts.” It went from having just five members as of Jan. 5 to about 138 today. It’s grown like crazy.

"I want our club to serve as a social gathering; a real meeting space. One of the aspects that I think people love about pickleball is that it’s easy to learn and not very demanding on the body. It’s also very social."

And where do you play?

As well as playing at Prosek, International School Prague [ISP; in Prague 6] heard about our group and they were interested in hosting courts at their gym, so we play there, too. 

In May, we came across another club on social media that was promoting pickleball, so we reached out to them, and they said they had a net. So a few of us went to scout the location, and it's great. It's called Plechovka Dubec, or Sport Arena Prague, and lies to the east of the city.

Frida with head of the Czech Pickleball Association, David Palkovský
Frida with head of the Czech Pickleball Association, David Palkovský

What kind of people play with you – is it mainly for expats or locals?

There's a real mix of expats and locals – anybody can add anyone to the WhatsApp group, so it isn’t that easy to keep track! I’d say it is about half-half.

There’s also a wide range of ages – we have a 19-year-old and 78-year-old playing! We play with a 69-year-old who's amazing; he kicks our butt every time!

Do you know how many people play pickleball in total in Czechia?

It’s hard to say an exact figure. On the Czech Pickleball Association website, there are 60 registered players – meaning they have paid fees to become members – but in practice, there are way more casual players, as our WhatsApp group suggests. I'd say about 50 people in our WhatsApp group are committed players.

David assumes there are around 500 casual players across the whole country.

And what kind of format do you play in – is it a box league or do you just play casually?

We are all amateurs – we have had a few casual tournaments, but want to involve as many people as possible in a friendly way.

From a tournament earlier this year
From a tournament earlier this year

Most of the people that started playing in January were pretty much beginners. But from January to now – because pickleball is such an easy sport to learn – the people who started from the beginning have now achieved a pretty decent level. And so when we get together during the week to play, it's open play. This means that people freely play with everyone.

Tournament winners from earlier this year - Frida is second from left
Tournament winners from earlier this year - Frida is second from left, Ariane third from right

However, I would say that people tend to group with players that have the same level as them.

We should have another casual tournament in September! 

"We have recently actually begun to run workshops for beginners to teach them the main rules. We might start having a certain core dedicated to more beginners, and others more to intermediate and advanced players."

For someone wanting to get involved, how do they do it? How do you register and what are the prices?

We post a weekly schedule on our WhatsApp, and people sign up on a Google document – on a first come, first served basis – to play in the proposed schedule of the week. People can find all the info on our WhatsApp group.

The price ranges depending on location, but it ends up being about CZK 125 for two hours of play. 

Sundays are the busiest – spaces fill up very quick, but on the weekdays you can always play. 

And what kind of rota do you have; when exactly do you play?

A lot of the timings depend on court availability at the venues in which we play; our schedule varies.

We play 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and on Saturdays we try to have two, two-hour sessions at Prosek.

Prague e
Czech Pickleball

On Sundays, we have two morning sessions at ISP. In the new location that we have, Plechovka Dubec, it’s open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the week. However, now that the summer holidays are here, the Sunday slot is closed for now and will resume again in August. All updated information can be found in our WhatsApp group.

And do people need to bring their own paddles [rackets]?

Both in Prosec and at ISP there are 10 paddles that can be lent out.

How are you collaborating with the Czech Pickleball Association?

They are very, very keen on promoting the sport. They organize a lot of tournaments nationwide, such as in Olomouc and Frýdek-Místek.

In fact, the association recently hosted the first-ever Czech Pickleball Open, which took place in Frýdek-Místek. Fifty-two players participated from countries such as Hungary, Poland, France, and even the U.S, including a few professional players. Five players from Prague represented our group.

We also help them promote their tournaments; Prague has the highest number of pickleball players from the entire Czech Republic, so we can send them to non-Prague tournaments.

"On the one hand, we want to grow – but we can’t just yet, because we haven’t got that many courts and spaces for people. It’s a struggle: how much do we actually want to advertise this?"

The Czech Pickleball Association also has a website that lists all of the locations nationwide where you can play pickleball, and they name the venues that we play at and the tournaments we run. That’s how many people have heard about us.

Also, whenever we play and send them photos, they put them on their social media immediately. This gives us a lot of visibility, because they have a lot of followers from all over Europe. 

And how do you plan to spread the word and market yourself to more people in Prague?

In May, I created the Prague Pickleball Club Instagram account – we've recently published some posts – and we also have a Facebook page and email [praguepickleballclub@gmail.com].

Right now, people hear us mainly via word of mouth.

David from the Czech Pickleball Association has also offered to help us make a website.

"Once we become more official, we’ll be able to find – and access – more locations to create a dedicated space for us. If you ask me, that’s the dream; to have a physical Prague pickleball club."

We have, to a certain extent, kept ourselves from advertising a lot because we don't have too many dedicated places to play.

Have you had any recent big developments?

An exciting and new change is that the Prosek venue has opened two outdoor pickleball courts. They are the first dedicated pickleball courts in Prague and the first outdoor courts in the capital.

In mid-July, there will also be two new outdoor dedicated pickleball courts in a venue called Sport Park Zdiměřice in Prague-West.

Recently, we also became an officially registered association; the Prague Pickleball Club. Both Ariane and fellow player called Jan Dvořáček helped set it up; Jan is the president.

How do you hope to grow and expand in the future?

Right now, the weather is only getting warmer. Most of the locations we play in are indoors, so we are looking into even more places where we can play outside. 

There is no dedicated pickleball club venue in Prague – where all courts and facilities are used exclusively for pickleball – and we want to change that. Currently, we mainly play in multisport halls – as other people play other sports in them, it can sometimes be hard to find time and space to play on them.

There are also other facilities out there, like tennis courts, that are underutilized – we would like to collaborate with some places and share the space to make it into a pickleball court. In the U.S. this is almost contentious, but I don’t see why this would be a problem!

If you were to give any piece of advice to a first-timer thinking of starting pickleball, what would it be?

Pickleball is easy to learn and fun for people of all ages and skill levels. It's an incredibly social sport and one of the few that brings together different age groups and genders in one court. Pickleball improves your hand-eye coordination, balance, and agility – it's a great cardio workout and always provides a huge mood boost!

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