How do we grow the game?

What came first? The chicken or the egg? In tennis, what comes first; the activity or the facility?  Can we get more people playing with the facilities we already have? Or do we need more courts before we can get more people playing tennis?

Across Great Britain, at the moment, tennis venues are being asked to think big as the Lawn Tennis Association launch their Transforming British Tennis Together initiative, which will see £125 million of grants and loans invested into facility projects over the next 10 years.  The challenge facing many venues is how do they grow and get more people involved in tennis or joining as members.  Surely new or better facilities will be the answer? If you build it they will come.

The problem with this approach is the number of quality facilities across Great Britain that are not fully utilised already. From indoor centres to outdoor clubs, many venues aren’t making the most of the courts and floodlights they already have.  Why should more investment go into facilities if there are still so many not being used to capacity?  If you can’t fill the courts you have, how can justify having more?

At the same time there are venues that are bursting at the seams and can’t do any more to grow.  If only they could get floodlights, more courts or even a roof.  These venues prove it is possible to have good programmes without fancy facilities.  In outdoor clubs, parks and schools, tennis is being played in very basic facilities and there are certain parts of Great Britain where this is the norm.

So what is the answer?  Do we need to invest in facilities to grow the sport? If we build it, will they come?  From my experience the answer lies not in places but in people.  The biggest challenge facing British tennis at the moment is people.  Be it coaches, volunteers, leaders, administrators, our sport can only succeed by investing in people.

You can have the best facilities in the world but without the right people to manage, promote and organise programmes that encourage people to start playing or carry on playing, what’s the point of building more courts or floodlights?  At the same time, we need more coaches to inspire and motivate adults and children to enjoy, compete and succeed in tennis. Too many indoor tennis centres don’t have the right management structures in place to be successful.  More investment needs to be made into positions for people to work in tennis. Outside of the LTA, the majority of people who work in tennis are either volunteers or self-employed and this does not bode well for the future of the sport.

Many venues don’t need more courts, they need help with the courts they already have.  Volunteers and managers need support running their venues but also recruiting and working with a coach to help keep their club alive.  In our most proactive venues, it is the people making the venue succeed more than the facilities.  If tennis venues are lucky enough to have good people in place and need more court time to be able to grow the sport then they need facility investment but, depending on where you live in Great Britain, it is the workforce that is required first.  Only when these issues are addressed can we start to think about transforming the sport.

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