Champion Alex Simon's Kenya Trip: A Pickleball Journey of Impact and Inspiration

November 20, 2023 00:24:58
Champion Alex Simon's Kenya Trip: A Pickleball Journey of Impact and Inspiration
Sleeve's SPR: People of Pickleball
Champion Alex Simon's Kenya Trip: A Pickleball Journey of Impact and Inspiration

Nov 20 2023 | 00:24:58


Hosted By

Mike Sliwa

Show Notes

Welcome to the latest episode of Sleeves Senior Pickleball Report! Join us as host Mike Sliwa chats with champion pickleball pro Alex Simon about his recent trip to Kenya. Discover the inspiring journey of impact and empowerment as Alex shares his experiences teaching pickleball to children in Kenya. Don't miss this incredible episode filled with passion, sportsmanship, and the joy of giving back. Tune in now for an unforgettable conversation that showcases the best of pickleball and the power of making a difference. Subscribe to our channel for more exciting pickleball content! #Pickleball #KenyaTrip #Inspiration

Alex Simon
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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Speaker A: Sleeve's senior Pickleball report is brought to you by TNC Network. Get ready for an exciting episode of People of Pickleball with Mike Sliva. We're about to dive deep into conversations with influential figures from the world of Pickleball. So let's get it going. [00:00:25] Speaker B: Okay, today we are talking with Alex Simon, friend of the show OKC Punishers, player for NPL, third ranked duper male, over 50 in the world and sponsored by Thrive Pickleball, talking to him about his Kenya trip and how to spread Pickleball internationally. All right, check all the links in the description. Subscribe, and hey, subscribe to that newsletter, man. Get your Pickleball verse info on almost a daily basis. All right, let's get to that interview with Alex. [00:01:05] Speaker C: All right. [00:01:05] Speaker B: Longtime friend of the show, back again. He is the man that gives us usually our National Pickleball League updates. But this time we're going to talk about his travels and his ambassadorship around the world. Welcome back to the show, Alex Simon. [00:01:20] Speaker C: Thanks so much for having me. Yet again, hope to continue to be entertaining today. We won't be talking about National Football League, but other things happening and share it with you. [00:01:35] Speaker B: You know, when we first interviewed you, we kind of got into what you wanted to do. And I think at that point you had sort of done, and correct me if I'm wrong, sort of an impromptu clinic in Hong Kong. And that really got the bug and the juices flowing for things outside of your tournament play and your own game. And so let's kind of remember a little bit and talk and review some of that for folks about how you really wanted to get into traveling and actually spreading the game more as an ambassador as well, not only playing the game and competing. [00:02:14] Speaker C: Yeah, I'll make a long story short, but my pickleball journey has been a little over a year long now. I started in October of 2022. It's crazy if you guys listen to my earlier podcast. I decided before ever playing Pickleball, I wanted to be a professional pickleball player. I did that and I achieved some pretty good success early on. And I ended up going to Hong Kong on an unrelated trip. Nothing to do with Pickleball, right. And I went to go visit my daughter who lives over there. And so I went on Facebook. I started looking know Pickleball in Hong Kong. Does anybody play? So there's a federation. I reached out to them. They said, yes, we'd love to play with you. Turns out they had never seen anybody of my level ever on the island. So they asked me if I would teach a clinic. I said, sure, I'll do an informal clinic. One clinic turned into two. And more importantly, I only wanted to play professional. But after I taught those clinics, I decided, you know what? I love this stuff. It really was a pivotal moment in my pickleball life, and I wanted to teach more, and I wanted to become more of an ambassador, probably even more than a professional player. Fast forward to today. And I'm just returning from Africa. I was in right, right where I not only got a chance to teach clinics, but I actually got to introduce Pickleball to orphanages and children that had never, ever played pickleball. These are abandoned kids, all ages, these two teenagers. And this was just an incredible trip, an incredible feeling, being there, playing with the top players in Africa, and we'll get born into the. Yeah, so I've been traveling, I've been going all over the know, I did my Asia trip, which began everything, and now here we are, Africa, looking to go to Europe. Coming up a few times this year. So let's get into it. [00:04:12] Speaker B: Yeah, I mean, obviously we'll get into it. And the possibilities seem to be endless as this game starts to really go global. And I think 2024 is a pivotal year where we're going to see it start to explode in other regions and other markets. Before we get into the trip that you came back on, what do you think it is in your own life and your own background that really draws you to not just stay in the US and go to country clubs and teach people how to play pickleball, but to really get out there and do sort of the groundwork For a game that is really starting to kind of grow globally in all different continents. I don't know if you've reflected on this at all, but where do you think that comes from? [00:04:57] Speaker C: Well, I love traveling. I was raised, actually in South America and Brazil, the United States, to play college tennis, and I've been here ever since. But I see the growth. And of course, you first see it online. So you start seeing all these people in different groups that you join, and they're coming from Africa, they're coming from Europe, they come from Asia, they're coming from Australia, and you see this sport rolling, but at a very much a grassroots level. And I went to Hong Kong and there's about 1500 players. I imagine there's close to 2000 now. The sport has really taken off over there. [00:05:33] Speaker B: Right? [00:05:33] Speaker C: They did not have one single dedicated pickleball court. [00:05:38] Speaker B: Wow. [00:05:38] Speaker C: Not one court. And they have 1500 people playing, and we play on badgering floors, we play on basketball courts, we play on streets. They say we play wherever, wherever we find room. We travel our nets and our paddles and our balls. I'm thinking, you know what? People want pickleball. And I was surprised that I was by far the best player ever to come through Hong Kong. I said, you know what? Why don't I do this everywhere? And attach also a philanthropic element to it, which is what I did. And also I created my own 501 profit, which is a two fund, which I'm also putting together and allows me to do these trips. But I just love seeing the growth of the sport and being able to go in Africa. They brought, and already moving into the Africa trip, they brought the best players in all of Africa. Wow. To take clinics for me, and to put this in perspective, there was one lady, Brenda, who's from Uganda, and she took a 30 hours bus ride just to come learn from me for a couple of days. [00:06:51] Speaker B: Yeah. [00:06:51] Speaker C: Then Mugisha, another guy who's trying to develop pickup on Rwanda, he took a 24 hours bus ride to come take clinics from me. Just the feeling of gratitude and seeing the effort that these people are putting into pickleball and into just coming to see me, it's just amazing. So how can I not get back and go to these places? And people are like, well, there's so many nicer places, but I want to go to Africa. I want to go to, I want to go to know at my level with my knowledge of the game. May never again or for a long time. Hopefully there will be better than me that will get there someday. But for now, it's just such an awesome field to go there and be able to teach the little that I know to others. [00:07:47] Speaker B: Yeah, because you bring up a good point. It's about resources, and it's about who has access to play this game. As simple as the sport is, and you don't need a lot of equipment to do it, it still requires access to get to a place to play and find people to play with. I spent a little time in Uganda about twelve years ago and a different type of trip, but people did that we were dealing with. People traveled for days, and I'm not talking like, how we travel, I'm talking like, in the back of a pickup truck to get places. And so people really have a thirst for knowledge, whether it's about pickleball or anything else. And if it's something that they're into and somebody is there to divulge that information and has the background to do it. I feel my privilege seeking through in my own life where I'm like, oh, I got to drive down to the courts today. It's down this far and blah, blah, blah. And I just got to check myself once in a while and go, listen, man, the fact that a, you can physically play is something to be grateful for. And then two, obviously, traveling a few miles to go and play is another thing. So talk about how this trip came together because you talked a little bit about your philanthropy and why Kenya and how did it come. [00:09:13] Speaker C: Know, I. The Internet's fantastic, right? So I meet all these people, and especially Facebook and Instagram, and I will talk to anybody. If I see somebody in a group that's from a different country, I'm like, hey, how can we bring pickleball? How can I contribute to the growth of pickleball in your country? And so the conversations go. So I talked to actually a lot of people in different parts of the world. So I spoke to a guy in Cairo, Egypt, last night, wants me to go over there. And later I'll talk about all the other countries that I want to show you. And then some of them work out, some of them, for a variety of reasons, do not. But I reached out, know, somehow got in touch with this guy Joe, who owns a Nairobi pickleball club. So he built. He's a Swiss guy who lives in Nairobi and he built this club with four courts just out of his own pocket. And I said, hey, what will it take for me to go over? Goes, well, you know, let's find some sponsors. And by the way, thrive, who you're repping today is my personal sponsor and they contributed to get me over to great company. Yeah, they gave me equipment, so I brought a bunch of paddles over there. So Joe said, okay, let's bring you over. And we checked my schedule and it's far. Sure. [00:10:28] Speaker B: Oh, yeah. [00:10:30] Speaker C: I flow 11 hours to Amsterdam. Got to wait there for a few hours, then take another ten and a half hour to Nairobi. [00:10:39] Speaker B: Amsterdam is halfway Amsterdam, you're going up. [00:10:44] Speaker C: You think you're getting closer. You're kind of getting closer to Africa, but not really. [00:10:50] Speaker B: Yeah. [00:10:51] Speaker C: So I finally make it there. I only stay there four days, four days, five nights. [00:10:55] Speaker B: Yeah, that's a tough turnaround. [00:10:56] Speaker C: Schedule doesn't allow know, but I don't want a short turnaround to keep me from doing these things. So if I can fit in six days in my schedule and I got a full time job, plus I played pickleball full time, I will make it happen. So off I go. Joe said, okay, you know, come here. I basically taught the clinics, it was all, know, pro bono. I didn't ask for any money. They covered my travel expenses. I stayed at Joe's house. No luxury. All the African players, local players, they paid whatever they could, which that got donated by Nairobi Pickleball Club and Joe to the girl from Uganda. So it's know, everybody pitches in, you pay what you want, then we donate the money. Plus I brought bags full of equipment, clothes, balls, nets, you name it. [00:11:55] Speaker B: Right? [00:11:55] Speaker C: And then I actually got to spend a whole day teaching and introducing Pickleball to one of the many orphanages that they have in Nairobi, which was really the highlight of the trip. [00:12:07] Speaker B: Sleeves here with the senior Pickleball Report powered by TNC Network Talking Picklin. What's Picklin? It's a little five foot wide net that you can use when you just want to pepper around with somebody. Hit it back and forth and you don't have any space, but you just. [00:12:21] Speaker C: Need a couple feet. [00:12:22] Speaker B: You can put it up against the wall. Legs kind of fold in. Really simple fold up design goes into a nice little carrying case. $50 link in the description. Great practice tool. Because when you're playing against a wall and just having a line, you still don't have that visual like you do in a game net peripheral, which is the net. And there's something different about practicing against the wall with a net. Trust me. I just started doing it and I did it with Picklin. Link in the description. See you next time. And hey, let's pickle and see what I did there. [00:12:55] Speaker D: Are you looking to stay up to date on the latest Pickleball news and tips? Look no further than the sleeve. Senior Pickleball Report Newsletter get the scoop on the sport, learn how to stay healthy while playing and find out about upcoming tournaments. Subscribe now to get all the Pickleball info you need. [00:13:14] Speaker C: I mean, incredible. These kids had never seen pickleball, never played it, and now we leave everything there. So we come teach them. We show them how to play. We keep it simple. We don't get into double rules or counting. [00:13:30] Speaker B: Staging. [00:13:35] Speaker C: The third trip will get us. [00:13:36] Speaker B: Yeah, getting the staggy. [00:13:38] Speaker C: But what's most important is I go there and I go with Joe's group and he has people that help him at the club. We all go to orphanage. We introduce Pickleball. But I made sure and I told Joe, listen, after I leave, because I can't be coming back to Kenya every month. Promise me that you will go back there. It's not just stuff here. You guys are on your owN. [00:14:01] Speaker B: Right. [00:14:02] Speaker C: How they're doing. [00:14:03] Speaker B: You got to do follow up. [00:14:04] Speaker C: Got to follow up. So he's actually doing that. He's actually. Now I've come back for a couple of weeks. He already had some of the better players. The kids are most interested in the game, brought them to his club and taught them how to keep score. So now they can go back to the orphanage, teach other kids. So it doesn't just depend on guys like me or Joe and his staff. Now it grows, and now they can go to another organization, which they already started. And that's how you keep spreading the game and doing good. Yeah, that's how it came about and everything I thought it would mean. [00:14:45] Speaker B: That's an amazing. I mean, where do you see this? Obviously, you know, you've just gotten started. Humble beginnings in Hong Kong and pretty humble beginnings, obviously, in Kenya. And do you see this where you're building a team eventually and having people go mean, do you have goals with this kind of. What do you see happening? [00:15:05] Speaker C: Everything is happening so fast. I mean, a little over a year ago, I wasn't even playing pickleball, right? Pickleball wasn't even on my radar. In one year, all this happened. I'm playing, I'm ranked number three in the world in singles. So then I figure out, where do I want to go with my professional pickle? I just played open pro at the PPA, Las Vegas. Right? [00:15:27] Speaker B: Played in a new league. I mean, you did a lot in one year. [00:15:30] Speaker C: So I played league. Now I'm playing open pro singles with the young know. Then I have the clinics, which I love to do. I love teaching clinics. So now I'll be going to Italy, northern Italy in the beginning of May. Then I go to Eastern Europe in September. Plus, there's know those will fill in. [00:15:51] Speaker B: Between there, too, right? Yeah, yeah. [00:15:53] Speaker C: Something else that I've been doing, which is phenomenal, and I haven't made it public, but I think I can now, is I've actually been working with Andre Agassi on his pickleball. [00:16:04] Speaker B: Yeah. [00:16:04] Speaker C: So him and, you know, about three times a week and just singles. So him and I, we just work on his singles game. And he's such a Good player. He's really getting into the game. So then I do that. So where is my pickleball going? Honestly? I love the ambassadorship. I love teaching. I love spreading the game. And I mentioned it to you before, the playing. Right. It's almost like a selfish thing. Like my thing? Yeah, I'm number one in the world. Two, three, whatever. I'm chasing that. I've never been number one, but I want to chase number one. And that is nice. And it's a lot of work. And I'm still 51 years old and I'm playing open pro with the 20 year olds. But then there is the selfless part, the teaching others and making others happy and introducing them to the game. [00:16:59] Speaker B: Right. [00:17:00] Speaker C: And that is, I think, truly where my heart lies is, wow. The teaching, which I never thought when I started playing, I was like, I want to be a professional. I want to play. I want to be Top Rank. And now having experience the giving part and the teaching and showing the game, introducing the game, making players better, I love it. So to answer your question, in shortness, I see myself pursuing that probably more so than playing. I love it where my heart is, right. [00:17:35] Speaker B: Because the playing will come as this sport grows. And if you're doing things on a global level, you're going to be playing internationally and you're going to be playing exhibitions and you're going to be playing tournaments because you're here for X amount of time and you're teaching or you're heading up a trip to somewhere else. But I think long term, and you touched on this a little bit with just the gratefulness of people traveling to come and see you, is where does this game and what does this game look like in ten years when some kid from an orphanage in Africa is playing in the Olympic Games? When this sport eventually makes it to the Olympic Games and probably in the, those kids are carrying the game forward because as it explodes, the game will develop. It won't look anything like the game we're playing today. On some levels, if you look at tennis 20 years ago, as good as it is, you look at it tOday, you're like, man, they're doing some stuff that we didn't even think about. And so once these games explode in other areas and those people have their backgrounds and they bring table tennis to it or whatever it happens to be, look out. But I think it takes folks like you and people willing to go out there and really sort of bring it up from the grassroots, not just at the country clubs where people have access to anything they want. I mean, that's not knocking country club life. It's just the facts that not everybody has access to these games. And this is a game where you don't need a lot of equipment and it's pretty simple to teach. [00:19:08] Speaker C: That's absolutely a great point you make, it's not an expensive game. So if you have a little bit of land and people in the Philippines, they play on the streets wherever you find. So as long as you have painter state net and some balls, you're playing. So it is possible to bring this game to underdeveloped areas that these kids can't play and give them a chance. If they practice and they become good enough to play pro, hey, the better. And we're seeing a lot more juniors playing the game. And of course, as nice as it is for me to play professional, I'm 51 years old. My future, my body's going to give up at some point. So why not use this time and this opportunity that I have to go out and show the game to the young folks and let them take over. Right. [00:20:06] Speaker B: And carry it forward. Yeah. Passing the torch, so to speak. Well, I mean, sounds like an amazing trip and obviously we'll touch base with you as the year goes on. 2024, I think is going to be an explosive year in pickleball and clearly an explosive year in your pickleball life as well, because what you did year one, you're just winding up, it sounds like to me. So let's talk about you personally in 2024. What are you looking to do? I know you work your ass off. You're hitting balls all the time. You got practice partners, you're running Andre Agassi around. What do you kind of want to accomplish as a player in 2024? [00:20:44] Speaker C: I think it'll be a combination of playing and traveling. I think I need to be honest with myself with the goals that I set to become number one. And I'm close, but the guys ahead of me are just, they're world class and I know I'm not there yet. It would take a lot of practicing. So I am not that concerned with being number one. I just want to go out, have fun. If it needs to take a backseat to promoting the game and being an ambassador of the game and do clinics elsewhere and bring my knowledge to other people, so be it, right? That's more important. So, yeah, it's going to be a combination of playing some, not sure what I'll be playing, of course, singles, my cup of tea, and that's where I excel. But my doubles has been coming along nicely, especially with NPL where I got to play a lot of doubles and a lot of doubles with tremendous players. The best teams in the world were playing, so I'm not sure where that's going to go. But yeah, combination of traveling clinics hopefully doing some good. Introducing pickleball, not just abroad, because I want to bring it to inner city kids in the United States. If anybody's watching this and has any ideas, hit me up. I'll be happy to come to your city and introduce it to anyone that wants to play. And I'll get sponsors on board. Yeah. [00:22:06] Speaker B: And it's a great. I mean, I think it's a great. I think of the 1950s and kids playing stick ball in the streets and Willie Mays playing as a kid, playing baseball in the streets with a stick and a ball. And I think of kids playing basketball in these playgrounds. And this game can do all of those things. You could set it up in a driveway, you could set it up on playgrounds, parks, you name it, the space. And I think as it explodes and as people like you go out and give access to these areas, you're going to see some amazing people come out of these areas. Not only players, but people that have the gift of teaching. You don't even have to be a great player to be able to teach, if you can understand the game. And I think those are the areas, too, that we sort of miss out on. We want to get everybody playing, but we also need people who can teach the game, who know how to set up foundations. It's all encompassing and we're just kind of getting rolling on this. So I think for all of us that are involved, sort of at what I would call the beginning of the gold rush, it's pretty exciting because the possibilities just seem endless. [00:23:15] Speaker C: Yeah. The sport. And believe me, I'm in the trenches out there in different countries and I can see it. People want pickleball. People that are introduced to pickleball love Pickleball. It's just going to be such tremendous growth and I'm just happy that we're able to be a part of it and participate and look back maybe in ten years and say, hey, please. You and I were there when this first started, remember? [00:23:40] Speaker B: Yeah. And I got a feeling we will be. I mean, yeah, it'll be pretty cool. Absolutely. Well, hey, thanks again. Alex Simon out of Las Vegas. Played for the OKC Punishers. Ranked third, currently duper in the world, 50 plus men, singles, and sponsored by one of the coolest paddle companies you'll ever deal with, thrive and doing everything he can, spreading the word and look for him out there. You want to travel with him and do some work with him. We'll have links in the description for his upcoming events. Thanks again, Alex. [00:24:14] Speaker C: Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate the platform to spread my message and talk about Pickleball. Always a pleasure being here. [00:24:21] Speaker B: Yeah, you're always welcome, brother. All right, man. Hope you enjoyed our interview with Alex Simon. And check out the links if you want to follow what he is doing and go on a trip with Alex. I highly recommend it. The guy is one heck of a player, teacher and human being. All right, folks. Hey, the end of the day, let's pickle.

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