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How to give your child an advantage when it comes to being next Andy Murray

Published 22/02/2016

Net gains: youngsters learning the game
Net gains: youngsters learning the game
Role model: rising UK star Johanna Konta has excelled recently
Andy Murray
Leon Smith
Peter Bothwell
Karola Bejenaru

As a new campaign is launched to encourage more children to play tennis, victorious Davis Cup team captain Leon Smith tells Lisa Salmon how parents can help youngsters to take up the game and create the next generation of tennis greats.

British tennis has some bright young stars, as the recent stellar performances in the Australian Open by the brothers Murray and Johanna Konta showed only too well.

But we seriously need more great players - only last year the head of the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) admitted the game was in decline.

Without more children picking up rackets, the UK's tennis future doesn't look promising. Luckily, a new campaign is trying to attract more youngsters to the sport, by encouraging parents to get them involved.

The Ready to Play initiative features advice and a series of fun videos showing simple games for parents to play with their children to help them learn the basic skills needed for tennis, including hand-eye coordination, accuracy and ball control.

The videos star the current Davis Cup captain Leon Smith, who last year led Great Britain to its first victory in the Davis Cup since 1936. Smith, who used to coach Andy Murray, is head of men's tennis at the LTA and is keen to ensure Britain's upcoming tennis talents are as successful as the current generation.

"Tennis has so much to offer for a young player and introducing them to it at a younger age will keep them in the sport longer," he says.

A key part of getting more children interested in tennis is through schools and Smith says the Tennis Foundation, which delivers teacher training in tennis and provides tennis equipment, has now reached more than 20,000 schools in the UK.

Getting more clubs and parks to host the sport is also vital, he adds, so kids have somewhere to play outside school.

Having successful role models is also key to encouraging children to take up a sport. Smith lists Andy and Jamie Murray, Johanna Konta, Heather Watson and Laura Robson as the current tennis icons.

"If you speak to any of the top players, they'll all say they had an idol when they started out. Heather, Laura and most recently Johanna, are fantastic role models for young girls.

"We're so lucky to have in Andy Murray a player that's at the very top of his game that young players can look up to.

"Jamie Murray had a very successful 2015 and is now competing at the highest levels. We know how popular doubles is for those playing across the country, so it's great for the sport that we have a top British player there too."

Recent research by Pharmaton Active Life, which has teamed up with the LTA to launch the Ready to Play campaign, found more than three quarters (78%) of parents would like to encourage their children to try a new sport, while 40% feel they could do more to encourage their children to be active. "The emphasis, especially when children are young, is on the parent to encourage kids to keep active," says father-of-three Smith, who says the games on the Ready to Play website will help develop tennis skills and can be played indoors and outdoors throughout the year.

So, are campaigns like Ready to Play really what Britain needs to become a tennis great?

"It's such a long road from starting to play the game to getting anywhere near winning a Grand Slam event," admits Smith.

"But our best chance of ensuring we have more players at the top of the game is to grow the base.

"I'm excited by the Ready to Play campaign and the earlier we can engage with players and their parents, the more likely they are to choose tennis as a sport they'll continue to play throughout school and beyond."

For information about the Ready to Play campaign, visit www.ready toplaytennis.co.uk

Two players with local connections reveal how the decision to pick up a racquet has shaped their lives

Peter Bothwell (20) is from Hillsborough and is currently ranked 1,130 in the men's singles and 830 in the men's doubles. He says:

Last year, I was ranked 2,200, so I've been rising. My brother Sam is currently ranked 1,900 - we're the only professional male tennis players from Northern Ireland.

I started playing thanks to my grandfather's influence, as he was a coach. He trained my mum, Louise Tuft, who played for Ireland and even played at Wimbledon.

I knew I wanted to do something sporty - I didn't want to get a job that had me sitting in an office all day. When I was nine, I moved to Dublin for two years to attend the Irish National Tennis Academy.

My brother and mum came down with me, while my dad would visit at weekends - but I was so young I didn't really enjoy it and only stayed for a couple of years. I came back home and went to Dromore High School and played other sports like rugby. Then I moved out to Spain when I was 16, so I could train full-time again.

My family never pushed me into tennis, but it was easy for me to get into the sport because of my family's background. I also like the individual aspect of it and my sporting idols were mostly tennis players.

Now, my brother and I train in Spain, travelling around Europe for tournaments. It's enjoyable, but it is tough, too - we go home as often as we can, but I think I only managed eight weeks last year.

Tennis can fall by the wayside because nowadays in England and Ireland cricket and rugby have such a big following, so people focus on them. There's also football, so tennis is a bit of a secondary sport."

Karola Bejenaru (18) is currently placed 877 in the women's singles rankings. Originally from Romania, she lives in Belfast. She says:

I was in the junior leagues last year but I celebrated my 18th birthday in January so now I've turned senior.

I first started playing tennis when I was five and a coach came to my school once a week. Then, when I was seven, I decided that's what I wanted to do.

I love everything about the game; the travel and meeting new people and playing the game always motivates me.

In Belfast, I train mostly at Windsor Tennis Club, training twice a day every day except Sundays. Sometimes I go down to Dublin to train because it can be difficult for me to find players in Belfast. Good players are still in school and not many of them are at my level. I can play against my coach but you can only do that so often.

I'm not that surprised people aren't taking up tennis - it's a difficult sport. And as it's usually a solo sport everything is up to you. You have to pay for everything yourself and travel everywhere and when you're under 18 you have to have someone travelling with you which costs even more.

It's not just the cost of equipment and tennis clubs. Other countries have a national team and they travel together, but we haven't got one of those here. There was a team of sorts, but it was just for a couple of weeks a year. Northern Ireland can be a hard place to play tennis too. The courts here are all astroturf because we don't have the climate for grass.

The only hard courts are at Ormeau Park and even then they're not clay. It means it can take a while to acclimatise when you go to play a tournament."

Interviews by Kerry McKittrick

Belfast Telegraph

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