Eton fives can be played by both sexes and people of all ages, from seven to seventy.
Girls and women are increasingly taking up the game.
Children can start playing when they’re as young as seven, and there are some players in their seventies. A veterans tournament in 2009 – open to players over forty – attracted several players in their sixties. The long-term benefits of exercise of this kind are huge, and help to keep people healthy, active and mentally sound.
Because it is by nature a pairs’ game it is a very social game and four players of differing abilities can have an evenly matched game, so long as the pairs are balanced.
Increasing numbers of girls and women have been playing three-walled handball over the past 20 years.
There are now national competitions for schoolgirls and adult women, involving hundreds of competitors.
Courts are beginning to be built specially for them. As of summer 2009, Cheltenham Ladies College in Gloucestershire is building courts for its pupils. The game was introduced by a teacher there and was initially played on adapted squash courts, but it proved so popular that proper Eton Fives courts are now being provided.
There is also a national mixed tournament which attracts scores of players.
Fives is a good sport for girls, as it relies on reflex, fleet-footedness and guile as much as strength.
It has proved as popular with the girls as the boys in the state schools where it has recently been introduced according to Howard Wiseman, who runs a coaching agency Refca (Rugby and Eton Fives Coaching Agency).
He reports that as many girls have taken to the sport as boys, in proportion to the number of female and male
pupils in the schools.