Every Tuesday and Thursday the Ulster University Victory Scholars work with a set of individuals who are all over 50 years of age. Before the first day of attending a session, Mac, a Sports Changes Life staff member, explained the routine of these sessions to all of the scholars. He said, for the first hour we would be playing various sports such as badminton, table tennis and boccia ball (captured in the picture above). He went on to say that there would be a 20-30 minute break after the first hour, where we would be allowed to sit down, talk, and share a cup of tea with the participants. Lastly, he told us that the second hour would be filled with playing pickle ball. I was so excited and could not wait to begin, but I had one question; Pickle ball, what’s that?
At 10 am, Mac introduced us to the group that we were going to be working with. The first hour flew by, mostly because I kept losing in badminton and quite honestly, by a considerable amount. I thought I was halfway decent in badminton, so the reason why I kept loosing was not because of my low skill level, it was because of an advanced skill level that my opponents had. Quite frankly, I underestimated my opponent and they showed me up for it. To say the least, this was a very talented group. The first hour came to an end, and it was time for tea break. As I walked to the break room, I spoke to some of the members of the group about where I was from, what I was doing here in Northern Ireland, and how I was adjusting. We went back and forth with various exchanges of knowledge, that allowed me to become closer to the members of the group.
The break time was over. It was time to play pickle ball. I walked back into the gymnasium to find nets set up on a court almost similar to a tennis court style. Mac went on to explain that the game is played with a polygonal paddle which is used to hit a whiffle like ball back and forth. As Mac explained the rules and various technicalities, I grew with excitement. I could not wait to try it out. My first singles game was against Joe, who used to be a tennis player. Needless to say, I did not win that game either. He was really good, very mobile and had an impeccable touch and a spin on the ball with every hit.
Although I lost every game I played that day, I was able to build relationships with all of the members of the club. At the start of every week, I am always excited about these sessions. It is amazing the connections that are created by playing old and new sports. This is what Sport Changes Life is all about; using sport as a medium to build valuable relationships day in and day out. As time progressed the relationships became stronger. We have gotten so close to the group, that they invited all six of us to their annual Christmas dinner. I cannot wait to join them at this dinner, but more importantly I cannot wait till this week’s group session were I will have the opportunity to build more on our relationships.