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"A sport that is more cohesive" - Kien Thong & Charles Yong (Mental Wellness through Pickleball)

With the topic of Mental Health & Well-being gaining attention and sparking conversations about the pivotal role that Mental Wellness plays in enabling individuals to function at their best, Singapore Pickleball Association (SPA) has kickstarted a new Mental Wellness charter to encourage individuals to embark on an active journey towards bettering their Mental health and well-being. Together, we seek to raise awareness about the life-changing benefits of integrating Pickleball into our lives by showcasing the authentic perspectives of Pickleballers in Singapore.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, when the world seemed to slow down and adapt to a new normal, the lives of a father-son duo took an unexpected turn due to a simple newspaper advertisement. As the pandemic confined people to their homes, Kien Thong Yong (affectionately known as Yong) stumbled upon an ad promoting pickleball at an outdoor court near his place, a sport they had never considered or known about. Intrigued by the prospect of trying something new and having a reason to leave the house, he seized the opportunity to contact the number shown in the ad to gather more details before heading down for his first official pickleball session.

Having enjoyed the session, the 50-year-old decided to bring his son, Charles, along for his next session after realising how it might interest him. Coming from a tennis background, Charles’ transition into Pickleball was relatively smooth, and he, too, developed a fondness for the sport in no time. Little did they know that this seemingly spontaneous decision would mark the start of their journey into the sport beyond their capacities as social players.

“I found that there’s no end to this game in a sense it’s very holistic as you get to play with people of different social backgrounds. There’s no social barrier to this sport which was what drove me to continue playing it and to help organise more opportunities for people to join in.”

Yong, in dark blue (second from the left) giving a post-game paddle clap with his friends. (Credit: Kien Thong Yong)

Different needs of different players

While he identifies as more of a social and recreational player, Yong acknowledges that with the varying levels of competitiveness comes the different needs within Pickleball. With a mixture of competitive and non-competitive players in his Marymount-Braddell Club, he and co-head Valerie Moh have had to navigate the changing dynamics of their club ever since they took on the roles of club heads. Even with their status as non-competitive players, they are still aware of the needs of competitive pickleballers.

When his son embarked on the journey of competitive Pickleball, Yong found himself stepping into uncharted territory. Eager to support his son's passion and dreams, he dedicated himself to understanding the nuances of competitive sports. What began as a gesture of parental encouragement soon became a profound involvement as he immersed himself in the intricacies of Pickleball, attended matches, learned the rules, and even practised alongside his son, Charles. Through this shared journey, their bond strengthened, and the father not only became very involved in the sport but also a source of support and guidance to Charles.

“I do recognise there are different needs. In our club, we try to cater for those who want to play more competitively too. At the same time, we do not mind playing with those who are new to the game and introducing Pickleball to more people. We need a sport that is more cohesive in society and this game really helps to keep people together.”

With his father’s encouragement, the 17-year-old accomplished key milestones in his Pickleball career when he won double gold for men’s singles and doubles in this year’s Tampines North Invitational Challenge and participated in the recent Asia Pickleball Games held in Taiwan. It was also Charles’ first time winning gold in a sports competition. Winning medals aside, he attributes his enjoyment of Pickleball to the camaraderie of being a part of the vibrant community of fellow pickleballers.

Charles, during his singles match at a recent competition. (Credit: Lim Ee Kiong)

“Pickleball has undoubtedly improved my relationship with my father. We talk about it quite regularly and these conversations help us to improve our relationship by being able to understand each other more deeply and our thought processes and emotions. Playing pickleball together has provided us with an opportunity for quality bonding time and to celebrate each other's achievements.”

Understanding goes a long way

As to what prompted him to embark on such a high level of involvement in the Pickleball scene, he cited his “curiosity to understand what motivates others” as his motivation for doing so. Hence, he kickstarted another interest group that attracted participants from all walks of life who were keen to give this sport a try. By listing their sessions on Meetup, a social media platform for hosting and organising in-person and virtual activities, Yong was able to get connected with individuals from other countries who stopped by during their visit to Singapore.

“A lot of times, you do see small cliques of people playing outdoors. However, it can be quite difficult for strangers to approach them. So, that is where I learned that through Meetup, it can be a very effective avenue for people who want to start a new hobby or sport to find a group, and for us to reach out to new players. If they stay on, it’s good. But if they move on to find their own group to play in, that’s okay too. What’s more important is for us to create a platform for people to get started and connect socially.”

Creating an inclusive and supportive culture

With his kids occupied with their respective commitments and less time spent on having to travel for work as a trader in the oil and gas industry, the father of two can now contribute more to the local Pickleball community. Beneath devoting his time and efforts to volunteer for initiatives, Yong believes in the importance of fostering a culture that accepts differences and embraces diversity by recognising the unique strengths and perspectives that individuals bring to the table. Given how stressful and hectic our lifestyles can be, he views Pickleball as a place that allows individuals to express themselves through gameplay and social interactions. As such, he also believes that such an environment would also benefit Charles as he learns to engage with people of all ages and from all walks of life.

Yong, standing (3rd from the left) with some of his Club members during a competition. (Credit: Yong Kien Thong)

“Honestly, I’m surprised that so many seniors are willing to try a new sport and don’t mind playing with strangers. Pickleball is a great avenue to reconnect old friends, bring family and friends together and make new connections. The key thing (regarding your Mental Wellness) is to have a good quality of life and this social aspect has also allows people to open up to and confide with one another.”

Charles, the current Year 5 student at Anglo Chinese School (Independent) attests to experiencing a significant improvement in his well-being since his involvement in the sport.

“Pickleball has definitely played a part in helping me take care of my own mental health and wellness. It helps me to relieve stress, takes my mind of school work and all my troubles, and to build confidence in general. Apart from playing pickleball itself, the pickleball community has also helped with me with mental health and wellness. My own personal community has often offer support and motivation and they manage to create a very inclusive environment that makes me feel loved.”

Grab your limited edition SPA Pickleball paddle to get started on your towards better Mental health & well-being here:


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