With an annual income of £52 million from the Championships and approximately £14.76 million in revenue from other events, plus a staff of around 300, how good are the LTA are growing the game of tennis?
In this article we are not going to talk about how the governing body of tennis can use this money to grow tennis in the UK, nor how this money could be better spent on creating localised indoor tennis centres (Scott Lloyd June 2019), nor will we look at how clubs could better use any money given to them if it were to become available.
Neither will we delve into how the tournament structure could be better countrywide; moving away from a ‘coaching culture’ and more towards a ‘competition culture’ with the emphasis of team and fun from the early stages.
Neither will we discuss the funding of players and who should receive funding or how it should be more widely spread to help ‘tennis open up’. After all, gone are the days of “if you do not train with us, you cannot be a county player and progress through the system”. Or at least you would hope so.
But we will divide this article into three sections covering three simple areas: –
- The Good – Coach Education
- The Bad – Communication
- The Ugly – The Club Committee
1. The Good – Coach Education
The education of coaches is the obvious way of growing the game. Without a shadow of a doubt, the coach education programmes coming from the LTA outside of the main certification of level 1-3 is, quite frankly, top-notch. Recently with the help of the ever-willing Belgium contingent, the LTA have managed to put together some great products to help coaches grow the game, and it would seem, for the better.
In 2016 the introduction of Tennis For Kids, changed in 2020 to ‘Tennis Youth’ has brought many new children running to the courts. This is a 6-week programme of teaching every main shot in the game to a 5 or 11-year-old alike, run by the hard-working club coach to ensure the programme runs successfully.
Many clubs manage to convert these juniors to members and long may this continue. In its first two years, the programme boasted 60,000 budding new juniors to the game and for this, the organisation should be applauded. Of course, the club programme (as well as the coach) does need to be good enough to keep them for the years to come.
Since the resignation of Anne Pankhurst in 2004 after a 10-year tenure, the LTA coaching department has seen no less than five candidates take on the role of Head of Coach Development, currently held by Merlin Van De Braam, who is doing a stellar job. Each new appointee brings their own ideas on what should be taught in the certification levels. To the cries of many coaches on the ground , we know that with certainty the level 1 and 2, (and if we were to listen to one of the leading world education doctors who in previous years was employed by David Lloyd clubs to help educate coaches) level 3 were not quite producing the level of coach for the job.
With the new-and improved structure being launched in 2021 under the current coach ed team, it seems that after employing the knowledge of those from outside the UK, we can give a big tick to the coaching department and the 12 hand picked centres around the country who will be delivering the new and improved certifications and CPD to enhance the growth of the sport.
I would add, that in my opinion, the level 4 and 5 certification levels are among the best in the world and on par with the three PTR Master of Tennis programmes.
Coach Education – ✔️
2. The Bad – Communication
Over the years big names have come and gone, programmes have changed, blueprints have differed, varying visions have been incorporated and it seems clubs, and representatives around the UK have forgotten what the plan is. Admittedly my own 1999 LTA qualification has changed its name from the original so many times I would need to Google what my qualification currently means!
If we are to grow tennis then we need to all be singing from the same song sheet, reading from the same page.
I have certainly seen from first-hand experience the problems that employing such large staff around the UK brings. News of coaching pathways does not always filter to the LTA county offices which have dwindled in size over the years.
In the UK the LTA have implemented an accreditation framework for all coaches to join. Accreditation is the ‘safe to practice’ badge enabling a coach to work in a tennis coaching environment around the UK. At the end of the day, coach education has become a big business and with around 3000 accredited coaches in the UK (and many more without), the country is more than flooded with coaches of all standards and abilities.
However, different counties have different views of what qualifications or accreditations a coach requires to work in a club environment, this means there is a very fragmented landscape around the tennis qualifications scene.
The ‘HQ’ states as a coach from 1 October 2019 it was mandatory for venues applying to register with the LTA to ensure all Level 3-5 coaches operating at their venue are LTA Accredited. A region in the south west of the country, states you need to be LTA qualified and accredited in order to work in a club. Others like in the county of Sussex will state you can only be LTA qualified and accredited plus to work in a club. Others will state only those with an LTA qualification can become accredited and with that you can work with groups only. Many have no idea; others have no clue and here the communication model has broken from HQ to regional to club to the detriment of helping to grow the game in the UK.
Many coaches of 20-35 + years of experience and qualified through various other organisations have been required to restart from level 1 via the LTA pathway to work at clubs they have been building up and working for years. Course tutors turn around in dismay ringing out the words: “what the hell are you doing here? You should be tutoring the course!”. But applied prior learning is not applicable here.
Other coaches of the same experience have left clubs after years of continued work being told the club needs an accredited head coach to continue to grow, thrive and access funding from the LTA. To keep with the guidelines a newly qualified level 2 accredited coach would be installed as head coach over an ex ranked number 1 junior with 30 years coaching experience (non-LTA). This is beyond belief and beyond comprehension. This is a true story and happened in Kent: the coach left the club shortly after, followed by the members and any funding that the club was after by installing the accredited coach in the first place. The new coach was unable to continue or build on the excellent work of the previous coach. The club lays in a lesser state of what it once was.
I could write a book of horror stories, however the fact is communication from up high as to who can coach and who can coach what is broken, and if we are to push forward and grow tennis, we need to stop the roundabout of coaches leaving clubs from bad representational advice; this pulls clubs apart. With that in turn communication receives a big fail.
Communication – ❌
3. The Ugly – The Club Committee
This is the crux of the problem; this is where it all breaks down. You can have the best educated, professional and accredited coaches working at your club but they are being told how to do their job by Peter, the painter by trade who likes to mix in with his set 4 every Sunday morning.
It could be the club is thriving, business is good, junior and adult membership is at an all time high and in comes Steve the retired stock exchange chairman in his Porsche, fresh from his second home in the Cotswolds, requesting the club gets a bigger cut of the profits from coaches ‘earning too much’ money. There seems to be a culture in the UK that if a tennis coach is doing too well, then the club needs to stamp down on this and change it somewhat.
Committees are ever changing and along with it the ideas of the new amateur committee can force changes on the professional coach. A change of the guard in one club meant the head coach had to step down for the boyfriend of the new chairperson.
Again, the link is broken, Suzie the secretary who attended a beginner’s course three summers ago, has a say in how the club is run and how the coach will go about their business. This is far from the best model to grow British tennis and this is the nuts and bolts of where it falls apart.
There are many clubs and committees who have great partnerships with coaches and are flourishing. The coach works hard for the club, the club work with the coach, and all is well.
I am not sure the LTA have the resources or power to sort this chink in the armour out, much to the demise of tennis in the UK, and for that again we submit an x for failure.
The Club Committee – ❌
Coach Education – An ever-changing model but hopefully with the new structure in place something that will stay for years to come…. or until we have a new face in job. With every change comes an upgrade for those that have qualified in previous years and possibly a new title for existing qualifications.
Current Grade – B
Communication – With the inability to answer a simple email within 2 weeks at times if at all, or to ring the LTA hotline 3 times in the same hour and receive 3 different answers to your query, there is a long way to go. However, I am sure nothing that cannot be sorted if looked at appropriately
Current Grade – E
Club Committee – Where do we start? A contract protecting the future of any coach at a club and livelihood would be beneficial. Educational courses for those in committee roles to understand the role of the current tennis vision and the understanding of their own role in the club would also be advisable.
Current Grade – F
If leading organisations look after the coach and vice versa, the club looks after the coach and vice versa and the coach continually improves themselves within their role, then we have a bright and growing future for the sport. In all essence the LTA do a great job, but a few areas need looking into at the bottom of the system in order to maintain growth in the sport at ground and grassroots level.