Grass Court

May 29, 2008 at 13:04 | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Grass Court

It will soon be Wimbledon time and in time-honoured tradition by the second day we’ll be waving goodbye to the last gallant Brits. Ever wondered why Britain is rubbish at tennis? I don’t. It’s not to do with hothousing a hand-picked elite, it’s much more fundamental than that.

Partly it’s to do with rubbish facilities like these neglected grass courts. I’m tempted not to say where they are, but they are at the club where I play bowls and the bowling green is very well attended to. I only have bowls membership, but one can have tennis membership and even tennis plus bowls membership. Those latter categories, while not as exclusive as tennis club memberships might be in Surrey, say, or Hertfordshire, are not especially cheap and you certainly don’t get much for your money. Not that I’ve ever seen anybody playing, mind, while the bowling green is in constant use.

Oh, and the other part. Let me tell you a story. I was generally dismissed as rubbish at sports at school so was never taken seriously. I liked playing tennis, however – my father was a useful player in his time and had trophies to prove it – and when I spent time in France the family I stayed encouraged me in a way that nobody in England ever had. They implored me to develop my talent and told me I must join a club. So, when I got home, sixteen and eager, I persuaded my parents to sub me into joining the local tennis club as a junior at not inconsiderable expense, so that I could go along to the coaching session. I also had to invest in proper tennis whites, not something the French were all that bothered about. All that mattered for the French was that you played tennis as often as you could. The first time I went to coaching, I waited while the littlies – under tens, mostly, had their session, and then went on the courts for coaching with the older juniors. Older meaning 12-14 mostly, so I was much older and bigger than most of them. After ten minutes or so, the coach – a Mr Brian Lacey: I haven’t forgotten you bastard, if you’re still alive – took me aside, offered me my session fee back and told me in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t good enough for his coaching group, as “most of these are county standard and have been holding a racket since they could walk.” The last shred of my pride and confidence I used to refuse the refund. I went straight home, shut myself in my bedroom and cried for the rest of the weekend.

I never played tennis again.



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  1. know how you feel – but I’d not have refused the refund!

  2. The last time I played as a youth, my best friend and I got into it over wether the ball was in or out. After that I had no incentive to play.

  3. What a rotter. You should have done the full McEnroe and belted him with the racquet! The picture is both lovely and depressing at the same time.

    They say Australia’s tennis was always so strong because of all the free tennis courts about the place. Unfortunately, there are less of these around these days, and it is probably no coincidence that the elite players have dropped off. The other thing harming it is the story you tell, discouraging kids by talking down to them because they are not in ‘elite’ junior squads from a younger age, and coaches can’t ‘make a name for themselves’. Heaven forbid that they teach the game because they love it.

    I both played footy and boxed for quite a few years, and saw lots of guys give it away because of the over-competitive attitude of their coaches. They didn’t seem aware that some people did it because they liked it, not because they wanted to ‘get to the top’. They don’t seem to realise that there isn’t a lot of room up at the top, but plenty down below!

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