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Brian Omwando aims to grow the sport of pickleball in Kenya


By Brynn Grissom

on Dec 14, 2023

Brian Omwando is helping spread the game of pickleball in Africa

It’s no secret that pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the United States, with more than 48 million players estimated to have played the game at least once in 2023.

But the game is now starting to pick up across the globe, with many pickleball-passionate people helping to spread the word. 

One such player is Selkirk Advocate Brian Omwando, who has made it his mission to grow the sport in Nairobi, Kenya. 

Omwando, who is now 28, grew up just outside Nairobi in a neighborhood called Kibera, which is the largest slum in Africa. 

“Growing up in Kibera, everyone there played football,” Omwando says.”It wasn’t until I went to school that I tried different sports. I’ve tried everything from rugby, to swimming, to running, but none of those were really for me. It wasn’t until I started tennis in 2007 that I became truly interested in sports.” 

In fact, he was first introduced to pickleball in 2018 as a student at Nairobi’s JD Tennis Academy, during a visit from professional pickleball player Daniel Moore, who often traverses the globe to teach the sport. 

Moore stayed for a week, but left behind several paddles and balls so Omwando and his classmates could continue playing. The group didn’t have a pickleball-specific net, but made adjustments to the academy’s tennis nets to accommodate the sport. 

Brian Owmando is spreading the game of pickleball in Africa.“At first, not many people were keen to play it because it was a new, unheard of sport,” Omwando says. “But I became very interested in it, and I wanted to see how I could push it out and grow the interest for it.” 

So, he began an Instagram account and Facebook page to try and teach others about the game. Meanwhile, Omwando continued practicing every day and entered several competitions, winning multiple medals. 

However, as the sport was relatively new to Kenya, it was difficult for Omwando to find tournaments to play in and dedicated pickleball courts to play on. 

“A lot of our courts are improvised,” Omwando says. “We don’t have very many hard courts, so we usually have to use clay and the bounce isn’t that good, or we have to use tennis nets, which aren’t designed for pickleball.” 

So, to provide a better space for pickleball players, Omwando got involved with starting the first pickleball club in Nairobi. The Nairobi Pickleball Club has four dedicated rooftop pickleball courts and hosts tournaments and various other programs for Kenya’s pickleball fanbase. 

Nairobi Pickleball Club has four dedicated courtsThe club hosted its first tournament in August and attracted more than 60 players from six different nations. The club also travels to other African countries to play tournaments, including Uganda and Tanzania. 

After becoming certified through Pickleball Coaching International, Omwando now serves as the club’s head coach, teaching newcomers the game and helping dedicated players hone their skills. 

“It is amazing to be able to teach the sport. It feels so nice when people get to know the game. For me, it’s a privilege to be part of that journey to not only show off the sport but also to be an inspiration for the kids living in the slum that any sport you have a dream to play, to just try your best because you never know what can happen.” 

Now that more people are picking up the sport, Omwando is focused on his next mission: removing barriers to play. As most high-quality paddle manufacturers are based in the U.S., it can be difficult and costly to get the equipment players need to Kenya. 

Omwando hopes to establish a reselling program at the Nairobi Pickleball Club so that players can easily access the U.S.-made products they want and need.

“We want to make the game more affordable and accessible to the locals,” Omwando says. “Any age can play it and it doesn’t take long to for players to pick it up and have fun, so we want to ensure everyone gets that chance.” 

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