There is no I in team!

The thought of managing a tennis team for a sports event who have been coached throughout their sporting life and brought up to train and think as individual athletes is a daunting experience.

Individual athletes are well known to have egos and the pressure on yourself during competition, dealing with not only your physical strengths and weaknesses but also experiencing an emotional rollercoaster point by point should be taken in to account.

Unlike team sports, you don’t have other players on court with you that you can rely on and share the moment with and you have to be able find a way of processing all of these elements.

I’ve recently come back from the 20th Maccabiah Games in Israel with Maccabi GB, a competition that occurs every four years and hosted 10,000 athletes from 80 countries at a Junior, Open and Masters level. As the tennis manager/coach, alongside my other coach Marc, I had picked a squad 18 months ago of 10 players who would be competing in the Under 18s tennis tournament and we had trained fortnightly days up until flying.

Even though everyone had started to get to know each other during the training sessions and we had held a couple of socials, there weren’t any immediate connections or sparks between the squad. In my position of responsibility, and staying with the squad for two and half weeks, my main concerns were that they wouldn’t naturally bond and create a team atmosphere. With the competition standard so high, I was also worried that the vast age difference, with the players ranging from  14 – 18  years would also contribute to this as their levels of maturity were very different.

I think it is fair to say that we travelled out as a group of individuals but came back not only as a solid team but also a group of lifelong friends. Even though the squad competed against players who had ATP, WTA and ITF points, their support for each other during every match was incredible. We dealt with success over matches won and heartbreak over matches lost and would always find a way to get through it together.

During our trip, we would also regularly unite and chat about what we had planned as well as playing ice-breaker games that would not only keep everyone relaxed and comfortable but would also be a good laugh. It was moments like this as well as the times travelling on the bus to and back from competition and over breakfast and dinner that would be remembered.

Spending so much time together allowed them to became a closer group to the point that other teams would come and say how nice it was that the tennis squad were so close.

As a manager and coach, using different communication and management styles helped as well as always understanding each player on a personal level and putting the teams best interests first. Speaking with them individually on a daily basis and checking in was key and they knew that they could always approach us if they had any worries or concerns. Adopting different roles like a coach, manager and friend were vital and strengthened that position of trust. There were moments that we found tough, but the satisfaction from seeing a group of young tennis players form was so rewarding.

After participating together in an unforgettable journey over the two and a half weeks, they won’t only forget the time they shared but also will remain firm friends going forwards.

 

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You CAN achieve the unachievable!

Hard work and perseverance does pay off and setting long term goals and targets for yourself should be a must.

I started a career in tennis with literally no experience, knowledge or background in the sport. Brave I know and probably a little bit stupid too.

I had experience in the field as I coached football to juniors for 5 years prior to starting at my current club which is where my passion for tennis really began. I was asked to coach toddler groups part time and now I’m looking for coaches to work and join my team.

I found that tennis was not only just a new challenge but it was fun, rewarding and disciplined mentally. It is only now that I can understand and really value it’s underlying morals.

Although…. tennis isn’t all rosey. It’s obnoxious and elitist in areas and there are some individuals that think they are above you no matter what.

Ignoring its negative implications, I decided to continue and start getting qualified. It was clear to see that it wasn’t going to come easily to me as I’m not naturally gifted and I didn’t understand much of what I was being taught. A world of technique and tactics were another language.

I also really couldn’t play and didn’t understand why people made it look so so easy. But I graft and always have done and this perseverance has got me to where I am now.

I scraped my way through a PTR qualification and started to learn how the British tennis system worked so I could know it inside out. If anyone had a question, I would have the answer. I had the most amazing support from my boss who took me under his wing, encouraged me to put myself out there,  shadow and assist with sessions and play and we became a great team.

I specifically joined a health club with indoor courts so I could train over winter and started weekly lessons with a coach who played on tour as a junior. I have not only invested a lot of money into qualifications but also my standard of play.

Earning respect is the hardest thing. I’ve had to earn this from fellow coaches, parents and players who were already rated and knew the system back to front. Going out there and showing your weaknesses is daunting and never gets easier.

I remember breaking down when I was told I wasn’t ready to take my Level 3. I couldn’t understand that even though I had been working so hard, it still wasn’t enough. But things wouldn’t be as worthwhile if you didn’t have to fight for them and I had to work even harder.

It is only recently that I have passed my Level 3 and received my license and I have never been more proud of myself. A Level 3 to anyone else might be nothing but to me it is everything. It just shows that if you do really work for something, ignore those that put you down, say that you can’t do it or deserve it, laugh and roll their eyes, you can achieve anything you want to achieve. Trust me, I’ve had it all.

I’m now Head Coach, run a club with 250+ juniors and a growing adult programme, 10+ part time and full time coaches and have teams that have won their divisions the last four years in a row.

My journey has taught me to appreciate everything that you learn along the way and take your time. What will be will be and opportunities come to those who make it happen. Level 4 next? A bigger club? Maybe. We will see.

All I know is that a nobody can become a somebody.

 

 

 

 

‘This Girl Can’, can you?

Sweat. Wobble. Compete. LOVE.

Have you seen it?

If you haven’t, I’m talking about Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ national campaign which has been funded by the National Lottery and celebrates women of all ages, sizes and backgrounds taking part in their favourite sports and not giving a damn!

It’s had a huge push on social media, been promoted through Governing Bodies and has been advertised on TV, the radio and across bill boards up and down the country.

I do genuinely believe that sport can play an important role in everyones lives. But there are so many factors that stop women in particular from even just participating. The fear of being judged, not being good enough, time commitments and accessibility to name just a few and I can relate to this.

I am by no means the best by far at playing any sport. I’m not the fittest, fastest or strongest and I am not elite in the slightest. But I do really LOVE sport and working out and everything that comes along with it!

There are plenty of opportunities out there for women to participate. Whether it is a new gym class or a sport that you loved playing years ago and wanted to give another go, there are now even more coaches and clubs behind the campaign that fully support your every move.

You just have to take that initial step forwards. Take a friend, a family member or do it alone but embrace everything!

I am fully behind the campaign because I think it has a really strong and relevant concept. Governing Bodies have designed specific programmes to encourage more women to participate including the LTA who launched ‘Tennis Tuesdays’ and ‘She Rallies’ and England Netball with ‘Back to Netball’.

Taking part in sport isn’t just the only issue. I am on a mission to encourage more women that want to pursue a career in the industry. There are so many opportunities out there as it is a forever growing product. You don’t have to be the best in performance but just passionate and there to to make a difference.

‘This Girl Can’ and so can you!

 

Standing tall has nothing to do with height

It’s pretty bloody hard being 5 ft 1 and looking young, working in the male dominated sports world and trying to make a name for myself.

Yes I get told, ‘oh but when you’re in your 40’s you will love it, people will think you look younger’ but no, I won’t.

Right now I hate looking young and not being taken seriously.

Last year when I was travelling to America alone (at the age of 26), I was asked where my guardian was to chaperone me. No joke.

And this is what I find most of the time! I’m currently busting my behind trying to run and expand a successful tennis club which consists of all male coaches and 250+ members, operate an online business and grow within my career.

I am also heading up a tennis team that are competing internationally in Israel this Summer and every single one of my 12 players, male and female, are twice the size of me – and look older!

It’s hard when people don’t take you seriously and judge you straight away. It eats you up, tampers with your confidence and even makes you start doubting yourself. However, I have found within my experience, all you can do is continue to keep your head down and work hard because at some point you will fly past these people that make the comments.

Once you have, you will find that they then start listening and respecting you for what you’ve achieved. No questions asked and no justifications given.

So how do I try to overcome this situation on a day to day basis?

  1. Keep my head down and power on
  2. Show them who is boss (in a tactful way)
  3. Make a difference
  4. Make myself known and heard
  5. Not let the outside world or negative comments affect me

There are always up and downs but the journey continues and the goal list keeps growing, only except in height.

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Where’s Sophie?