I am a big fan of the proverb ‘it takes a village to raise a child’.
I strongly believe the tennis world needs to embrace the essence of this proverb when it comes to creating a culture of tennis. The reality for most countries is they don’t have singular places which can cater for the entire player pathway so we need to find ways of working together and placing the child/teenager/adult at the centre of the picture. This could be likened to a family.
I am just back from a 5 day tour of a few Irish tennis clubs and during my travels I stayed with 3 Irish tennis families. I don’t want to sound too corny but what I witnessed in those 3 families genuinely warmed my heart. What was interesting to me was the vibe seemed to spread into the tennis clubs I visited. It struck me they have massive potential to take advantage of this.
So, what did I witness? Essentially, what I would consider, good old fashioned family values. Each one had such an authentic caring feel with the interaction between the parents and children being incredibly warm, nurturing and empowering.
When I visited the tennis clubs, I witnessed collections of families all with the same vibe and I felt a genuine connection between some of the families. It felt like they wanted the best for each other and were celebrating each others successes.
Now, you may be reading this and thinking surely this is normal. Unfortunately the tennis world can still be a dog-eat-dog place and, in many cases, I witness people genuinely not wanting the best for each other. In some cases, it is extremely poisonous with adults speaking unbelievably horribly about young children from other families.
There is still way too much ‘keeping up with the Jone’s’ in the tennis world and I believe that comes from a lack of joined up thinking. There are too many fractions in tennis development and I don’t see that much genuine collaboration or cooperation between the different elements.
I have been involved in the world of performance and now spend the majority of my time working in the grassroots. It still astonishes me how little communication or joined up strategy there is between these two areas. At their extremes, they may be poles apart but the reality is there are no imaginary lines or boundaries around all of the areas of tennis. They literally merge into one another.
The lines are not blurry, they don’t exist! If they don’t exist then we have a duty of care to provide an environment where everyone feels supported at every part of their journey.
Countries like Scotland and Ireland have the opportunity to create these types of environments because of what we DON’T have. We don’t have huge budgets, facilities or an abundance of coaches so we MUST work together for the betterment of our tennis players, of all ages and stages.
As soon as you prioritise one end of the tennis spectrum, performance OR development, you create a divide in the trenches. In my opinion, we must support all areas of the tennis family equally. I don’t mean just in finances but, more importantly, in acknowledgement. Show we value everyone for their efforts and acknowledge they play a massively important role within the tennis family.
I believe Irish tennis has a fantastic opportunity to create an amazing feeling of ‘togetherness’. They could play to their strengths, they are family oriented, genuine and caring people who seem to want the best for others. Of course, not everybody is like that but more good equals less bad so indulge me and allow me to focus on only the positives.
I believe Scotland also has this potential. For this to happen we must think of our entire tennis family. We must play to our strengths and create environments where everyone is valued. Take away the hierarchy of performance VS development. There are no lines between them so let’s all work together for the benefit of each other.
It takes a village to raise a child! Let’s create one.