We all know when Wimbledon's upon us – not just because of the endless pock-pock sound from TVs across the land, but by the proliferation of everyday folk hitting the courts and stocking up on whites.
Once the tournament is over, of course, most of us go back to sunbathing or jump on the next sporting bandwagon – but what of the people whose job it is to get us up to speed for that all-important match?
Brian Bates, a tennis coach in the West Yorkshire village of Linthwaite, near Huddersfield, was a late starter, who only began to play tennis properly at the age of 33. "I was average at tennis, and only plucked up the courage to join a club later," he says. "I realised my technique was all wrong, so booked a few lessons. After five lessons with a head coach, he asked if I was interested in hitting with his better young players. So I did."
Bates, who previously worked in adult education, soon found he had a flair for tennis coaching and enrolled on a five-month Development Coach Award organised by the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) in Sunderland. It was quite daunting, he says, because the usual route into coaching is by being a very good player who has been coached intensively from a young age.
But Bates feels he has advantages. "These kids are usually excellent tennis players, and they do things that they wouldn't be able to explain. I have full experience of what the problems are, because I have been there myself."
To be an effective coach, Bates says, you need only be good enough to rally with a competent player. You have to be a good role model, as people learn by looking. Most important, you must be open-minded and ready to learn new things, as tennis is always changing.
Bates has his own court and teaches about children a week, plus occasional adult pupils and groups at weekends. This month, the Tennis Foundation announced a long-term strategy to ensure that people of all ages and abilities have access to the game in local schools and parks.
The aim is that, by 2012, a least 1.5 million children will have been introduced to tennis and 61,000 children of all abilities will be competing. Spreading the gospel is what appeals to Bates: "I love playing tennis, but what I really want is for everyone else to be playing too."
Floyd Williams first picked up a tennis racket when he was 11. He went on to play in the Davis Cup and is now ranked 220th in Great Britain, according to the International Tennis Federation, and is the managing director of the London Tennis School.
"I didn't want to be a professional tennis player until I was 18," Williams says. "Obviously, the earlier you start the better, but anything's possible." Williams did an accountancy degree before making tennis his life, and is now finishing a Masters in sports psychology.
"One of the downsides of sport here," he says, "is that our college system doesn't lend itself to sporty people doing both sports and studies." He is now setting up a tennis academy in association with East Berkshire College. "The aim is for 16-year-olds and above to get a very good grounding in sports science and psychology, but have top-class coaching at the same time."
Williams began to coach at 26, after an injury, but most people start teaching as a way to earn money alongside playing. He agrees with Bates that the teaching is more important than the playing; you need to want to pass on the information. "Sebastian Coe's father wasn't an athlete, but an engineer. He used those skills to train his son. John McEnroe is a great tennis player, but might not be a good coach."
You don't need any formal qualifications to call yourself a tennis coach, but the LTA's qualifications are recognised across the UK. Most tennis clubs are affiliated to the LTA, so it helps to be licensed. LTA training includes child protection checks and training in first aid.
Contact the LTA for course details (www.lta.org.uk)Reuse content