The LTA have really got to invest a lot of resources into seven, eight and nine year olds because that is when you have got to get the best athletes playing tennis
It may officially be the off-season but that hasn't stopped British No.1 Heather Watson from bombing around London on behalf of one of her sponsors, Statoil
Along with Tim Henman, Heather was at the Royal Albert Hall to hold a coaching clinic for eight youngsters who have been encouraged to play tennis as part of the activities of British charity “Give it Your Max”.
Give it Your Max was set up by Tara and Mike Stotesbury to give youngsters the opportunity to pick up a tennis racket. Since its launch in 2005, 52,000 children across the country have participated in the scheme. The most recent venue to be added to the growing list is at Paddington in West London. “Paddington Recreation Ground has wonderful facilities but a fairly average coaching programme so that is where we are setting one up at the moment and the new head coach, who has been appointed there, will start going into schools straight away,” explained Mike. “The idea is that they will go into four of five pretty large state schools, find some talent and get some children coming back to the recreation ground where they can further their tennis career. We have also started one down in Deal in Kent.”
The first GYM scheme was launched in Reading near where the Stotesbury’s son, Max, a tennis coach who in 2004, aged 18, was tragically killed in a car accident, was at school. The Stotesbury's never expected the scheme to grow as much as it has but they are delighted nonetheless.
With Statoil’s sponsorship of both the Masters Event at the Royal Albert Hall and of Heather Watson as part of their Heroes of Tomorrow Scheme, sponsorship of the British charity was a natural extension. “If the children are involved in sport its probably keeping them off the street and we have since found that it’s good for their discipline and their well-being,” said Tara. “Statoil approach it from the same angle.”
Tim Henman, a patron of GYM, says of his involvement with the Stotesbury’s: “We talked about really making the game as accessible as possible. I feel very strongly about it on a national level and on a performance level that the LTA have really got to invest a lot of resources into seven, eight and nine year olds because that is when you have got to get the best athletes playing tennis.”
Henman also thinks role models play an important part in getting kids to pick up a racket. “That’s where Heather and Andy Murray have a part to play. It is their job to keep playing well and produce the results on the court and this is a by product of that, so when kids can come out on the court and hit with Heather and see that she is a human being, there aren’t magic secrets. It’s about hard work, dedication and commitment.”
Heather, who went to Florida aged 12, offers some sound advice for those youngsters who are not as keen as her to pack their bags and leave home for a tennis career. "Surround yourself with good people and good friends as they keep your mind off missing home so much," said Watson before adding that Skype is a great way of staying in touch.
Of the GYM scheme, Watson says there are life skills to be learned as well from playing tennis. “Even socialising, talking and playing with one another, being able to communicate with one another is brilliant”, added the British No.1. Doing this on the GYM scheme she thinks will help kids to thrive.
Heather was quick to point out that the youngsters even had some great dance moves. The clinic finished with all the kids and Heather on court dancing ... yup you guessed it ... gangnam style.
The next stop for Heather is the USA for some serious off-season hard graft.
If you would like to find out more about Give it Your Max, supported by Statoil then head to www.giveityourmax.org