Having played the game at grass roots level for several years, Tom Sables is uniquely qualified to comment on the lower levels of the game. In this rallying call, he urges young players to forget the cold weather and make the most of the indoor facilities throughout the winter months.
The winter months can deal a harsh blow to those Britons back home for Christmas and looking to hit some balls. Far from the neutralised conditions experienced by players in Spain over the holidays, the cold winds and slippery surfaces can freeze any progress you are looking to make on your game. The concept of tennis as a summer sport in our British schedule could puzzle those abroad; not in the least, perhaps, because our structure has produced so few stars. The segregation of sports into seasons follows a rigid pattern set in motion by our schools, whereby sports are taught and played by PE departments at certain times of the year.
While this may make sense logistically, few schools offer the facilities to allow juniors to develop their game further in the winter months. The knock-on effect of a system that is built as a reaction to the elements is our elite youth fighting for every hour they get on court. Promising talent in Britain has to work both between strict national curriculum hours and around unfavourable conditions. Perhaps the most telling instance was one of Britain’s hottest properties, Andy Murray, moving from Dunblane to Barcelona during his mid-teens in order to reach his potential. While Murray now represents Britain spectacularly, guiding us to Davis Cup victory in 2015, there is still no doubt he is a product of the Sánchez-Casal Academy. He has in the past been critical of his country’s process in turning stars into superstars – claiming in 2005 that it had ‘ruined’ his brother, Jamie. All things considered, if there is a problem with the British environment and our ability to nurture top players, the lack of sunshine is certainly part of it.
From the perspective of those at participation level, however, the prospects of getting what you want from the game (perhaps a double-date-turned-mixed doubles experience) are not so bleak. The LTA now pump over £5 million per-year into club development, and their online site makes it easy for you to find your closest indoor or all-weather court permitting safe play. For those looking to start 2016 with the resolution of improving their net-game without searching the net for ways to do it, British institutions such as David Lloyd offer more focused coaching and club competition with access to indoor tennis.
There has been huge action taken to invest, quite literally, in your desire to pick up a racket and play, rain or shine, so forget the forecast and open a new can of balls on 2016.
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