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Coaches urged to seize opportunity

The head of the British Tennis Coaches Association believes a new focus on parks tennis bodes well for his membership

Lawn Tennis Association chief executive Michael Downey has made delivering tennis in parks a priority and Royston Kymberly, the National Manager for the BTCA, says facilitating public courts will not only help increase participation but will encourage coaches to become more entrepreneurial.

Kymberly, who was on the panel at last month’s Tennis Industry Association UK Summit, believes children no longer have the opportunity to play tennis for fun, and that coaching has superseded the sport itself.

“For kids, tennis used to be a game that they played, and if they liked it they continued and improved, then they played a tournament, and – if they could afford it – they maybe made the choice to have some tennis lessons,” says Kymberly.

“Now, it’s a tennis lesson that is chosen for them to attend by their parents, and then if they like it and continue to improve they are maybe selected by their coach to play a game or tournament.

“I have asked hundreds of our BTCA members this question and the answer is always the same; many of the kids they coach never freely play tennis and just continue to go to group tennis lessons every week and train under supervision. And we wonder why we have no natural players coming through.”

Kymberly, who grew up playing on his public courts in Southchurch Park in Southend in the 1970s, found his own opportunities in tennis limited.

“For me, tennis courts were an escape from reality,” he said. “There were multitudes of them in the parks in those days and I would spend my summer with newfound friends playing tennis. Every Wimbledon fortnight I would pretend to be Jimmy Connors, play my heart out, and leave my troubles at home.

“I had little opportunity then to take my tennis any further as the sport had problems. It was too exclusive, it was only seasonal and professional tennis lessons were out of reach for underprivileged kids.”

The implementation of indoor courts and introduction of Mini Tennis went some way to make the sport more accessible, but Kymberly believes it has come at a cost.

“Year-round supervised Mini Tennis and junior coaching programmes at clubs and indoor centres are great and have been heavily supported by the LTA in order to improve playing standards,” he said. “But they have grown at the cost of free park tennis facilities.

“Entry-level tennis should be about a fun pastime for all, not a structured, organised, intimidating environment where the fear of failure pushes out more kids than it invites in.”

Kymberly believes re-establishing and financially supporting traditional park tennis environments would create an entrepreneurial atmosphere that encourages coaches from a range of backgrounds to set up “play and learn” environments, which can lead to increased participation and improved performance levels.

“Michael Downey has made parks tennis a priority which follows in the footsteps of great organisations such as tennisforfree and Will to Win who have been independently championing this ideal for many years,” he said.

“If this act of facilitation by the LTA is open enough to include coaches from all coaching fraternities then this could not only be good for tennis but a great encouragement to all coaches, as well as players. This support by the LTA of entrepreneurial initiatives is, I believe, the way forward for our sport.

“We are all responsible for changing if we are to put the enjoyment back into the fantastic game of tennis.”