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LTA to re-direct resources to focus on increasing participation

At a media briefing at The O2 on Friday, LTA chief executive Michael Downey and Bob Brett, Director of Player Development, answered questions about the future direction of British tennis

Downey thinks Sport England’s decision to cut the LTA’s funding last year was a blessing in disguise. After a re-assessment of resources and funding the CEO says in future the governing body will allocate more of its funds to growing the game.

The Canadian, who took the top job at British Tennis in January, says the reduction in funding announced in December 2012 has made the association reassess its goals and go back to the consumer in its attempt to increase participation.

 “You learn from adversity not from success,” said Downey. “Sport England gave us a burning platform and we are a better organisation in participation because Sport England really gave it to us last year.

 “Sometimes what happens with federations in sport is they love their product so they forget to ask the consumer what they really want. It made us consider the consumer and what the consumer wants. We are working with partners because we know we can’t deliver everything ourselves.”

In the drive to grow the game at grassroots level, Downey talked about plans to create park hubs as well as working with the marketing team to communicate new projects such as Tennis Tuesdays, aimed at 20-something women finding playing partners.

The former CEO of Tennis Canada believes that the decision to close the National Tennis Centre as a base for elite players is part of a long-term strategy to give greater independence to players and coaches.

Downey said: “I went down to see UK Sport earlier in the year and they said, ‘there isn’t a sport in this country that funds 21 High Performance Centres’ – why does tennis need it?

 “It is part of the movement towards decentralisation that we are looking to downsize the high-performance network. We want a smaller network with more focus.

 “We think we can deliver a better high-performance programme for less money,” he added. “That allows us to reallocate that money to grow participation. We need investment in parks and clubs so we will see more money moving over to participation.”

Australian Brett, who has coached the likes of Boris Becker and Marin Cilic and previously worked with Downey at Tennis Canada, has been running camps across the country for youngsters focused on the basics of “learning to play tennis” as well as educating the coaches.

“It is important the coaches are there for the duration of the [five-day] camps,” said Brett. “If you have people only coming for three days they will not get the full message we are trying to deliver. We have changed a lot of what we are trying to do. There are two players on the court, one coach per court and it’s more about match play. You would be surprised how much the children improve learning to open up the court. It’s one of the fundamentals of tennis.”