At-risk girls on Burma’s borders’ zest for the sports pikleball

By | Mon 27 Mar 2023

In the far north of Thailand in a village near the Myanmar border, sits the country’s northernmost pickleball courts. Located on the campus of Friends of Thai Daughters (FTD) Sunflower Farm, the two courts have transformed the outlook and attitude of a growing number of at-risk hill tribe girls and young women who are residents of this remote Children’s Home. And what do these hill tribe girls think of this new game? 14 year old Pan (names changed for privacy) shared, “I LOVE pickleball because it makes me feel light and strong. It has lit a fire in my heart!”

Friends of Thai Daughters Sunflower Farm, Maechan,Thailand

The courts are the brainchild of FTD’s Co-founder Jane McBride, an American who first discovered pickleball a decade ago when her older sister Dotty introduced her to the game, claiming that pickleball was the fastest growing sport that “no one has ever heard of”. Ten years later as Dotty was losing her battle with ovarian cancer, she choseto bequeath funds to build pickleball courts on the new FTD campus. FTD is a US-based 501(C)3 organisation that was founded to protect at risk minority hill tribe girlsfrom being targeted by human traffickers or sold into child marriage. ( The organization provides safe shelter, education and a loving family-scale environment where Thai Daughters thrive.

The new campus opened in November 2022 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by more 200 people, including a contingent of pickleball players from New England who instructed the Thai Daughters on the basics of the game. The girls squealed with delight each time they scored a point.

Thai Daughters practicing drills

Chiang Mai Coaches with Thai Daughters

The girls’ enthusiasm for the game is infectious. 15 year old Napa said, “I love pickleball because it teaches me concentration, consistency and makes me feel more disciplined. it’s more fun than playing games on my phone.” 10 year old Fanta said she loves to collect the balls for her ‘older sisters’ because it makes her feel “helpful and important.”14 year old One said that when she feels a bit sad, she can’t wait to play because “pickleball increases my happiness and clears my mind. I have a PASSION for this game!”

McBride added, “at FTD, we focus on empowering ourThai Daughters and pickleball brings out the best in them. They learn teamwork, sportsmanship, and discipline. Since the scoring is in English, their self-confidence and conversational skills are improving and they are more comfortable speaking English with guests and coaches.”

In January, four top rated players from Chiang Mai, a city located 3 hours’ drive south, volunteered to coach and drill the girls in preparation for the Thailand Pickleball Open in February. Their young students watched with rapt attentionas the coaches demonstrated dinking, third shot drops, and lobs.

In February, FTD staff brought eight Thai Daughters (who named their team the “Sunflower Stars”), on a 15 hour van ride south to participate in the Thailand Open. Tournament Director Elaine Shallcross generously organised a clinic and mini-tournament for them in advance of official play so that they could feel part of the excitement. She rallied a group of enthusiastic elite players to coach and play with the girls, delivering an unforgettable experience to these young athletes whose early childhoods have been extremely challenging. Players from the UK, Hong Kong, and Singapore donated shoes, paddles and money to offset travel expenses.

17 year old Shula explained, “at {this tournament,} I realized how very kind pickleball people are. Everyone isso helpful to us”. Junji, her doubles partner, chimed in,“everybody seems to have fun playing pickleball! So many smiling faces make me feel so happy!”

Thailand Open Tournament Director Elaine Shallcross (3rd from top right) with coaches and Sunflower Stars.

FTD is now fundraising to build additional courts at the site of their second Children’s Home in Chiang Khong, a small town located on the Mekong river across from Laos. “These courts will be covered and lighted so that the girls and visitors can play in the intense tropical heat, during the rainy season and at night,” McBride explained. “TheSunflower Stars are determined to bring home the Gold at next year’s tournament!”

FTD welcomes players,volunteers and coaches.To learn more, please visit, follow them on Facebook or