Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the world. April is National Pickleball Month. 

These reasons gave me plenty of incentive to track down Carlisle's very own Pickleball coach and attend an evening session, to find out exactly why this sport is on the rise. 

The sport was formed in America in 1965 by three dads who wanted to play badminton but didn't have the correct equipment. Nearly 60 years on and stats suggest there were over 30 million players in the US.

The UK has an estimated 7,000 players, but Pickleball England is aiming for 25,000 members by 2025.

It is described as a mixture of badminton, table tennis and tennis and sees competitors hit a plastic ball from one side of a court to another, with the aim of scoring 11 points on your serve to win the game. 

News and Star: Julia Stevens offers coaching to schools in the Carlisle areaJulia Stevens offers coaching to schools in the Carlisle area (Image: Supplied)

Carlisle's Julia Stevens fell in love with the sport at a young age and now coaches a wide range of ages and abilities in the border city.

She said: "I saw a sport called pickleball advertised at my local tennis club, Chatsworth Tennis Club, so just thought I would go and give it a try. I tried it, and was immediately hooked. I actually signed up to be a member of Pickleball England that day!"

Since setting up her own business, Pickleball 101, in October last year, she has visited a number of schools and sport's clubs across the county, and runs weekly sessions at St Peter's Church in Carlisle.

Julia added: "The response has been positive with many wanting access to coaching as they start their pickleball journey. There is already a local club called Eden Valley Pickleball which has around 150 members with many pay and play opportunities. There are other groups that will pop up, and it is very exciting.

"The biggest thing we can do at present is advertise as much as possible, and make people aware of 'what is pickleball?' And 'Where can I play it?'. Both locally and nationally, more purpose built pickleball facilities need to be created, to allow instant access to the sport and opportunities for organised play and coaching careers."

After picking up a paddle, and enjoying some rallies with other group members, we quickly got into mini-games, which involved keeping the ball inside the 'kitchen' - the small rectangular area closest to the net.

Thanks to Julia's keen eye and coaching, we had progressed in the space of half an hour to being confident for a full-on game, although it was the more experienced duo who earned the victory in the end.

Julia is now keen to spread awareness and get as many people as possible involved with the sport. 

She added: "It is more a game about skill and less about how old or young you are. People of all ages can play each other and it not be about fitness or athleticism."

The friendly and relaxed atmosphere of the session, combined with the complexity of the scoring system, was perhaps summed up best late on when Julia asked the score, and received the almost rehearsed response of 'we don't know'.