Do you enjoy playing tennis? Do you dream of being the next Federer or the next Henin? Has the success of Andy Murray inspired you to take up tennis? If the answer to any of these questions is yes then you need to read this interview with Andrew Lewandowski from the Lawn Tennis Association as he talks us through how you can make it to the top in the sport and how the LTA can help you.
What is your role within the LTA and what does that see you doing on a day to day basis?
My role focuses in on 2 key areas – the identification of youngsters between the ages of 6 and 12, and the management of these players to help them improve and progress.
I oversee a team of 10 Talent and Performance Managers (TPMs) and 23 Talent Performance Coordinators, (TPCs) who operate within their own regions and counties, and contact and monitor players through three channels:
1. Regional visits to clubs – High Performance Centres (HPCs), satellite clubs and visits to individual coaches
2. Organizing training camps – national (at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton), regional and county
3. Visiting tournaments to assess players in competition
How popular is Tennis currently in the UK?
The Sport England Active People Survey 2005/06 showed tennis to be in the top 10 participation sports in the country.
A large number of people play tennis once or twice per year but it is the numbers of people who play regularly and in particular competitively where we see lower numbers. One of our main priorities is to get more juniors competing regularly so that we see more players coming through and staying in the game.
By making tennis more accessible at the clubs, creating fun environments through well organised coaching, programmes and competitions we will potentially further increase the games popularity.
Also, having high profile role models, who are successful at the top of game in a way which Greg Rusedski, Tim Henman and now Andy and Jamie Murray are help to both raise the profile of the game and inspire youngsters to be successful.
How accessible is Tennis in the UK and how can young people go about finding out where there nearest court or coach is?
The work of both the LTA and Tennis Foundation involves introducing and keeping more players in the game with the objectives of having more competitors and also keeping people interested in tennis as a life sport.
The LTA website www.lta.org.uk has a ‘Find a Club’ and a ‘Find a Coach’ service so people can search for facilities and coaches local to them.
An important thing to check when looking for a coach is that they hold an LTA license. This means that they have recognised qualifications, a valid first aid certificate and an enhanced CRB check.
At what age should young people be looking at starting tennis to maximise their potential to go far in the sport?
It has been shown that the best time to start tennis is around about the age of 6. At this age and stage the child is most receptive to developing the ABCs (agility, balance and co-ordination which help in overall general sports development and critical for tennis. Tennis is therefore considered an early start sport with both the ABC development and tennis specific technical skills taught and mastered up to the age of 12.
Additionally competition is very important in this development process, with the introduction of mini team and individual competitions at around age 7, and progressing through red, orange, green and finally yellow, (full ball on full size court), by the age 12. During these stages players learn and develop both the tactical skills and mental attributes which stand them in good stead for the climb up the competitive ladder towards professional tennis.
How many hours should young people who want to reach the top be putting in to tennis?
It takes about 10 years to achieve excellence in the sport with the training programme increasing both in volume as quality as the youngsters starts to grow and mature.
As a rule of thumb up to around the age of 12 the player should be playing the amount of tennis corresponding to their age. So as examples:
10 year old plays 10 hours per week
8 year old plays 8 hours per week
6 year old plays 6 hours per week
It should be noted that some players, normally girls will be able to do more when they are younger due to physical abilities, maturity, and sometimes better focus and application.
The balance of the training needs also to be considered, with tennis supplemented by other sports for both overall physical and mental development important at these ages. It is also important that enough rest and recovery time is included in the programme.
Are there any accreditations that the LTA give out to coaches or Tennis clubs to show the quality of their work so that young people and parents can easily see the best places to learn?
As previously mentioned the LTA runs a licensing scheme for tennis coaches which ensures they hold recognised coaching qualifications, first aid certificate and have had an enhance Criminal Record Bureau check.
Tennis Clubmark is the LTA’s club accreditation programme. All types of tennis club are eligible to apply, including traditional tennis clubs, school clubs and those working within the commercial sector. Achieving Tennis Clubmark means the LTA endorses and supports the tennis programmes which the club delivers on court and the policies and procedures it has in place off court. By achieving Tennis Clubmark, the LTA believe the club is contributing to the delivery of the Blueprint for British tennis by continually trying to improve the quality of the club, the coaches that work there environment and the competition which that club delivers.
To go far in Tennis do you have to belong to a club and be entering competitions out of school or can you get noticed by playing in schools alone?
A talented youngster may start tennis at school, although it is important that he or she progresses onto a good performance mini tennis programme, where they can receive good quality coaching from an LTA Licensed coach as well as the opportunity to both train and compete with youngsters of a similar ability.
Can you talk us through the basic lines of progression you have to go through to go from beginner to professional and to getting an official ranking?
Competitions are now available in the form of mini leagues (both team and individual) from as young as age six.
The players progress along the performance pathway, following the LTA Competition Framework. This introduces competition, suitable for youngsters dependent upon their age, using differing court sizes and compression of ball to allow them to develop their full competitive abilities. Further details on the competitive framework can be found via the link:
Players are able to apply for a rating which then determines their relative standard of play in competition, and by 12 this rating is well established through tournament play as well as a national ranking which is first awarded for players in the 12 and under category.
Players develop at different stages, some moving through to Tennis Europe Events at 14 and 16 and under eventually obtaining an International Tennis Federation (ITF) ranking around these ages. The transition into mens and womens tennis takes places around the age of 16 and 17, though in the case of girls this could be younger, with players starting to compete on the ATP and WTA Futures circuit.
For those whose progress is not as quick there is the opportunity to compete in various National, Regional and County based events which also allow players to both improve their LTA ranking and Rating.
Do the LTA have Centres of Excellence if so what do you need to do in order to be chosen to go there?
The LTA currently supports a network of 19 High Performance Centres which provide a base for junior performance players. This means up-and-coming players across the country have access to top facilities and coaching.
The players at High Performance Centres are mainly aged between 10 and 16 years old. HPCs are also surrounded by a network of satellite clubs which feed through the most talented players. Many players based at HPCs also get the chance to attend training camps at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton where they receive further support and development from the LTA’s team of national coaches, fitness trainers and sport science specialists.
The LTA has a system of categorizing its top juniors against international standards and each HPC is working to get as many of its players as possible up to the top level.
To qualify as an HPC, a centre has to fulfill certain criteria. It must make sure players have access to indoor courts at required times, plus a gym and player room. The LTA also looks for other on-site facilities, including accommodation and on-site tuition for youngsters. Players must be allocated committed court time and have individually managed programmes.
How expensive is it and how much travelling does it involve to get to the top?
The LTA systematically funds players, clubs and performance programmes to help keep down the cost to identified talented players. Having said that for a youngster competing at a national level at the age of 12 both the competition and training can cost an individual around £5000 per year. As the players develop and progress there is opportunity to access funding from the LTA Matrix funding scheme which subsidises both the cost of training and competition costs as well as attracting additional sponsorship to offset the costs to the very best players.
What advice would you give to any aspiring Tennis star out there?
The tennis journey is a long and tough one and to succeed a youngster needs to be very determined, extremely ambitious and work very hard. It helps to have role models to inspire, and a good coach with a proven track record in developing juniors to assist and advise, in what is a long term approach. Obviously talent is very important, though a great attitude, the ability to accept the losses with the wins and the determination to get out of bed to practice, train and compete are equally as important to being successful
And finally how can we find out more about the LTA?
The LTA run an excellent website www.lta.org.uk where information on the issues discussed and many more can be found to help and advise players of all abilities how to get into the game and maximise their abilities. We have also just launched the British Tennis Membership scheme which is designed for people who are interested in tennis, be that playing, watching or competing.