Mark Gillett

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Archive for January 2015

Tennis Is Suffering – Its Being Challenged By The Fringe Sports

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I wrote last week about the state of British tennis mainly because its where I have been for most of my life. It seems to me, though, that tennis in general is suffering. In Germany clubs struggle, Berlin is not the hive of activity on the court it use to be. The US cannot produce players and haven’t since the Sampras/Agassi era in the mens game, which is quite some time back. The ladies are doing ok but clinging on to the Williams sisters who really won’t be around much longer. Australia, that once massive tennis nation is just a small player now on the world circuit and still look to old faces like Hewitt. France, Spain and Eastern Europe is where it seems to be right now but even in those countries there are problems.

My question is what has happened to those nations that once dominated? There are many theories you can read about if you just google the subject. The stance in the US is the centralised programme, lack of funds coming down to coaches and so on. In the UK everyone will blame someone else. Roger Draper took the brunt of this in recent years but under his leadership there was an awful lot of good happening. Perhaps just not radical enough and a bit of overspend! But then a political figure like Roger is never going to go the whole way. Now we have someone else to blame in 5 years time.. And I can’t even tell you who it is!! One area, however, with room for massive improvement is our parks.

Steve Riley of Willtowin offering public tennis with or without membership

Steve Riley of Willtowin offering public tennis with or without membership

Steve Riley of Willtowin is making major inroads in London but not without a battle against tradition.

I believe there is much more to it than simple blaming. In recent years I have been involved in many of the fringe sports. The new sexy ones that cost little and appeal to kids. They are riskier too and with branding such a big part of our lives, these sports have flourished and kids love them.

Parkour Egypt

Parkour is played all over the world. Here in Cairo everyone can afford it.

Take surfing. If you live near the coast in the UK – and there is a whole lot of it being an island – its easy to get started, very cool and costs very little. City kids can pick up Parkour, skate boarding and BMX all relatively cheaply and become local heroes in the process. With the rise of YouTube and channels like EpicTV, video shorts are being uploaded by the thousands daily, what do you think the kids watch and aspire to?? Its certainly not a few points of Nadal, Federer or Djokovic. More likely it will be some kid hanging off a crane in Russia, skateboard videos from LA, Barcelona or London, or some crazy biker in the Scottish Highlands getting 28m views. Others doing unbelievable jumps and downhills that make Evil Knievel look like a beginner. Well, I suppose he was really, he started something that RedBull have turned into a multi billion business.. Now take a look at the Barclays ATP Tour Finals youtube views. Nothing short of embarrassing with 70-120,000 for matches and 4 or 500 for interviews. For a world sport this should not be the case.

Even Ultra running is now sexy with some achieving feats never believed to be possible. Runners doing 100 mile races over mountains keeping sub 3hr marathon times throughout and others summiting  some of the toughest world peaks with nothing other than a water pack. Yoga is also now making inroads with the young and can be found in schools and cities everywhere

Yoga is inexpensive and all you need to take part is your body!

Yoga is inexpensive and all you need to take part is your body!

The answer to making tennis this sexy or appealing is tough. In some ways it just isn’t. I even pitched it to EpicTV but they just couldn’t go there. Somehow, though, it has to change and perhaps the only way is to introduce the concept of variations. Not in the core sport but to build on the easier more accessible possibilities like paddle tennis. In Venice Beach, this sport has grown massively along side the skate boarders, and bikers. It’s competitive, tough and sexy. And you can get more people playing on your real-estate so makes better business sense.

I would love to see tennis back where it should be. Its a truly beautiful sport that teaches us so much more in terms of life skills. And we need some of the young pure talent taking it up to ensure its survival through the generations. If we don’t we run the risk of tennis becoming that sport you take up in your retirement..

Written by markgillett

January 25, 2015 at 11:46 am

British Tennis – A Sorry State

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As the first Grand Slam of the year is about toImage 2 start, my mind turns a little towards the sport I have been associated with for 45 years of my life. I played until I was 42, coached and ran my own school until 7 years ago and through a series of events I dropped tennis out of my life. I’d had enough and it was time to follow directions and passions that had always been running alongside but but were now more important.

After around 3 years of no tennis I began to play during time spent in LA and it was pure pleasure. Sun, nice courts everywhere and availability to everyone of every level. And it was for me that I played. This was when I really started thinking about tennis and the state of the game in the UK.

For the last 3 or 4 summers in England I played a few times with my teenage daughter at the local courts which again was fairly easy. I had tried to speak to my local Club in Haslemere but to use their courts I had to join, which to play only a few times through the summer was pointless. So we played on the courts next to the club which were the same quality and for public use. But this was not always so easy either. On a number of occasions we would go down and the club had taken these over for their junior tennis. This is simply not right. Open your doors and operate in an open way or close them and stay private. And DON’T take public time. Cake and eat it comes to mind.

More recently I have found the bug again to play more. I have even tooled up with new rackets. I have hit a few times over the last months and Image 3my desire is really back. I am getting better, the feet are moving again and overall I am so happy to be playing this great sport. But the bit that really hinders my return to the game on my terms is our system.

Firstly I approached my old club Woking and they agreed to allow me to play there without joining as I wasn’t sure how for how long I would continue. Not long after this agreement, they returned with a call saying that it was not possible on this basis as it would set a precedent they were not comfortable with being a members only club.

What I would like to point out is that over the 20 years I have known this club, they have received funding for 4 acrylic courts, further funding/support for two porous acrylic courts. 8 courts with floodlighting also supported with grants and free loans from the LTA and further funds for the club house. Much of this funding was a direct result of the programme I owned there. This is not unique to Woking but happens at many of the 2500 clubs around the UK who then close their doors to the public. Ouch, thats a lot of funds given out to private members clubs.

Given that I can no longer play there unless I find £465 to join I decided to phone around. I know most of the local facilities and have managed to find the Guildford Tennis Academy where I can book without being a member. In the process, I found numerous clubs I knew of all with good funded facilities but none that would allow play without joining.

I am a player so I knew where to start but what about those who do not play and just wish to find a court and play; to give it a go and maybe book some lessons or join a group? For me its relatively easy but still I had trouble. Whilst I was in LA, over about 4 days I found 5 or six first class facilities I could book freely. Either with another coach, a list of players I found on a board and through an online site. It was so easy. France is the same and finding somewhere to play is not a problem. In fact most of Europe is like this.

John MacEnroeI am not in LA now, I am here. And I am loving tennis again but the system is not fit for the job. Currently there are around 2500 members clubs that the system works with. The LTA have lots of information on how to play and get started but this is relatively useless if you just want to pay and play.. If we are to start finding players we have to make the sport more available.

I do not think that a club should be forced to open its doors, however, I do believe that if a club receives any support whatsoever from the governing body (LTA), they should then be contractually bound to open its doors for at least its off peak times. In general people will take a punt and book a court for £8-15 and if its in a nice facility they will certainly enjoy the experience. Public courts can be an attraction also and really should receive the lions share of the money that comes form Wimbledon each year. This way tennis becomes affordable and easy to play. Then we start to see progress. Clubs that don’t “play ball” should receive nothing, and I can assure you many would be closed down. Forcing them to open up to public bookings would allow so many empty courts to be filled and clubs to boost their revenues. I suppose it will get up the nose of some of those lofty wankers who wish to remain members only but then they should not accept or be offered funding or interest free loans. And with these loans they are very often not paid and written off.

I don’t believe the solution is a difficult one but would take a concentrated effort and mean upsetting a few of those firmly entrenched in the establishment. The LTA has now got itself a new “head of state” so it would be nice to see them setting a few rules for funding that allow people access. Or just not fund. It would also be apt to go back historically and set rules with clubs that have in the past seen injections of cash. Why should these facilities then be only available to those who wish to be part of a private club or those who can afford it. The very people who believe they are doing so much for tennis are in fact hindering progress and limiting exposure of a great sport.

Image 1it will be interesting to see how we get on at the Australian Open over the next two weeks but other than Andy Murray we don’t have much there. And his success was outside the system too. As was Henmans’s.

All Images are copyright Mark Gillett.

Written by markgillett

January 17, 2015 at 5:26 pm