Tennis: a wee bit of a dreich outlook

new MembershipS and facility funding down in latest Tennis Scotland reports

-New membership applications down by half in 2018
-Facility funding cut by half between 2017-18
-Challenges facing the game include social dynamics and getting kids to ‘play for fun’

It’s got over 1 billion fans, three of the biggest stars across all sports play at its summit, and attendances and prize money at its four grand slams rise year on year, yet not everything in the tennis world is as successful and pristine as a Federer forehand, particularly in Scotland.

Tennis Scotland’s annual reports over recent years make slightly ‘dreich’ reading when you look past the little symbols, bright colours and creative layout.

Membership increases down by half

Between 2016 and 2017 membership numbers at Tennis Scotland registered Places to Play went from 54,448 to 56,421 – an increase of almost 2000 members. Yet in 2018 membership numbers went up to only 57,494 – an increase of just over a thousand.

Facility funding down from £468,000 to under £250,000 between 2017- 2018 with a £15 million grant obtained in 2016

Grants and loans for facility improvements are handed out by the LTA and Tennis Scotland. Between 2017 and 2018 funding dropped by almost 50 per cent but more peculiar than that is the use of 15 million pounds of grant money for indoor facilities obtained off the LTA in 2016. Since then ten indoor facilities have opened- two in Glasgow, four in Gleneagles and four in St Andrews.

It’s a strange spread of where to build new tennis centres. Ten sites are placed in just three locations, two of those locations being rather parochial. St Andrews is a seaside town of just over 16,000 people whilst the nearest city to Gleneagles is Stirling 20miles away.

St Andrews, photo by Peter Gordon for geography.org.uk- https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11287177

But the most glaring piece of analysis to come from all of this is that in Tennis Scotland’s aim to “make tennis accessible” Scotland’s three major cities after Glasgow- Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee, are not mentioned.

When I asked both the former president and head coach of my local club about the health of Scottish tennis they explained some of the issues within the game and the myths stuck to the sport that do not help boost participation numbers.

The myth that tennis is an expensive sport to get into

Gareth Rennie has been head coach at Cults Tennis Club, an LTA registered venue, for a decade and when he starts breaking the cost down to individual figures it does start to seem that viewing tennis as expensive is an incorrect assumption.

Rennie explains: “I could buy a child a tennis racket for 20 pounds, for an adult 40 pounds. I could buy three tennis balls for 3 pounds and I could probably find a free to use or low cost court.”

Gareth Rennie, Head Coach, Cults Tennis Club

Rennie understands why tennis is considered ‘elitist’ with most people’s experience of the sport coming from clubs which require membership. But he goes on to explain there are many practices applied across the sport that make tennis affordable for all. At Cults Tennis Club they have close ties with schools to promote the sport and hold child sessions for as low as 2 pounds per session.

“We do winter sessions for P1 to P4 that cost 2 pounds per session for indoor qualified coaching. We lend rackets at no cost. We are open to people coming to try things out and borrow equipment.”

Coaching at Cults Tennis Club
Coaching sessions cost from as little as 2 pounds a session

The problem is getting kids to ‘play for pleasure’

Sheila McKenzie, former president of Cults Tennis Club, makes a rather peculiar observation about the reason for the trend in reduced participation figures in tennis saying one of the problems tennis has is that children don’t play it for ‘fun’.

Former club president Sheila McKenzie (80) recently won the ‘Fun Doubles’ at the club championships this autumn

“I would like to see teenagers continue because they play in primary here and if they’re not winning or doing well in the leagues they give up. For that pursuit of pleasure they go a different route.”

Whilst Cults has a healthy junior membership split between competitive and non-competitive players Coach Rennie identifies three main reasons why players drift away from tennis.

-They fail to progress in the sport

-Other priorities come ahead of tennis

-The social dynamics change.

Rennie explains: “we find that those that are non-competitive drift away for a number of reasons.  One, they fail to progress and they find it a difficult sport which it is.  Two, they get to an age where things like schooling become more important.  Three, their best friend in the class leaves or stops.”

Sport enriching lives

One thing former president McKenzie and Coach Rennie reiterate is how being part of the club has enriched their lives.

For Sheila tennis was something that allowed her to exercise while being a wife and working mother.

“As a wife and mother I felt I couldn’t play golf because that took a whole day, so I took up tennis because local courts, 2 hours on a Saturday afternoon, 2 hours on a Sunday, it fit in, it’s worthwhile exercise and it’s fun.”

Cults Tennis Club was founded in 1887
The all-weather courts are played on throughout the year

Coach Rennie says to measure the positive impact tennis has had on his life is nearly incalculable.

“Most of my friends that are long standing would have been people I met here.  My wife played tennis here when we were kids.  It’s led to a family, a comfortable life, a happy life, so I can’t thank tennis enough.”

No matter what the health of the game Rennie makes the points that tennis can cater for all with exceptional coaching standards.

“You can do it from 4 to 84.  If you’re able to move and swing a racket you can probably go enjoy some tennis.  The coaching is very professional.  We have to go through lots of courses and qualifications to stay licenced and stay coaching.  So you know your child is going to be safe and taught in as good a way as you can hope for.”

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