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"Don’t add more stress to yourself." - Tony Koh (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.

Photo credits: Singapore Pickleball Association

How it all started

While most of us can agree that Covid brought unpleasant disruptions to our lives, some of us would credit it for igniting new passions & pursuits. For Tony Koh, Covid was the game-changer in his sporting pursuits that led him to fall head over heels for a new sport: Pickleball. The former national Junior Squash athlete and avid soccer player even gave up squash in a heartbeat to pursue his newfound sport, playing up to 13 times a week.

With many sports facilities closed and covid restrictions enforced, Tony and his sports kakis found it impossible to continue their usual sessions. However, one of his friends invited him to try out Pickleball as a "very fun and interesting" alternative sport. Despite his initial rejections, as he felt it was not as appealing as it looked, his increasing weight prompted him to try it. As then covid restrictions only allowed for a maximum of 2 people per group gathering, he could only play singles against his friend, which sealed the deal for him.

“First I played soccer, then covid hit so I went back to squash. Then my friend asked me if I heard of Pickleball and I went to google it. After watching, I wondered what a kuniang game! But I went to try and once I got the hang of it, I love it, man!”

When two worlds meet: Travelling x Pickleball

With his growing appreciation for the sport, the 54-year-old found himself always looking forward to the next session of Pickleball and researching more on how to better his game. As soon as covid restrictions eased up, with a higher group gathering quota and sports events making their return, Tony and his friends started participating in as many local Pickleball competitions as they could. With travel resuming its course, the self-proclaimed traveller would bring along his paddles for friendly games with various overseas Pickleball clubs and interest groups.

Photo courtesy of Tony. Securing his win in the Men's Singles event at the World Pickleball Championship 2022.

In 2022 and 2023, Tony began competing in overseas tournaments such as the World Pickleball Championships and the Asia Pickleball Open alongside his fellow Singapore compatriots. This saw him amassing multiple medals of different colours across events that he had participated in. All of it worked out perfectly for the semi-retiree as he could finally merge his hobby of travelling with his passion for Pickleball.

“I love to travel and play! The thing about the Pickleball community is that they welcome you. You just need to go on social media, find a group and connect with them before you fly over. They will welcome you as a foreigner.”

As Tony describes it, Pickleball is like a gel that brings people from all walks of life together regardless of where one might come from. Besides the fun and games on the court, it is the friendships forged over a “good time of drinks and delicious food” which floods the experience with lots of laughter and joy. For this reason, he cites Pickleball as a holistic and effective booster for one’s overall health & well-being.

Having a wonderful time bonding over food and drinks with his Pickleball kakis after their game. Photo courtesy of Tony.

Learning never stops

On what continues to keep his passion burning for the sport, the part-time cabby shares how picking up this sport has enabled him to stay physically and mentally active even as he transitions into retirement. While Pickleball has been “easy to pick up and relatively easy on the body”, enabling him to go on for hours non-stop, he quickly points out that it is also hard to master. Given its growing popularity, the thrill comes from constantly inventing new ways to “one-up” opponents during every match.

“Life can get stressful enough. Don’t add more stress to yourself. At the end of the day, it’s just a game. Enjoy it. Learn as much as you can. If you’re working, playing Pickleball gives you something to look forward to after work.”

Being a father to three young adults, he often reminds his children that he will always be their listening ear. His experiences showed him that his children were a lot more open to confiding in him regarding issues they had when he was “like a friend to them” instead of being quick to tell them what he felt they should do.

Hard at work and in the zone during one of his trips to South Korea. Photo courtesy of Tony.

“Never treat them like they are too young and don’t know anything about the world. Always leave the conversation open and speak to them like a friend. Then, they will be more willing to come to you and share instead of feeling like they must hide things from you.”

Being a relatively carefree and chill individual, Tony confesses that while caring for his mental health has never been an issue, he understands that it is not the same for others. For family and loved ones who struggle with stresses and challenges in life, his response would always be to sit down and listen to them before trying to process things together.

“Slow down. Find out what is really troubling you. Face it and tackle it. One thing at a time.”

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

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