Over 17 million people watched Andy Murray break the 77 year Wimbledon deadlock in 2013. The BBC subsequently provided its most expansive coverage to date in 2014, with over 150 hours of TV time dedicated to the Championships.
And yet this gives the Lawn Tennis Association even more reason to be scratching their heads. Why is it that only 406,000 of those that watched Murray romp to victory pick up a racket and play tennis at least once a week?
Perhaps more importantly, why is this figure in decline?
Interest in the sport has hit a peak and we need to act fast to harness the power of youngsters’ imaginations. We have the interest; we now need to facilitate potential player’s desires because they won’t wait around. Football, cricket, golf, even cycling are providing a greater impetus for participation.
Although far from an expert, I did manage to establish a club and coaching programme on public courts in 2010. The support of the local authority and public figures was very encouraging. The only thing that was lacking was a cohesive regional plan.
Every tennis club, school, sports facility could benefit from collaboration. We – as a small coaching group – could work with the school to provide tennis as an alternative to the traditional football and cricket combination which still dominates most PE teacher’s curriculums.
From there, we could feed into the local tennis centre, with a larger coaching infrastructure and – if you’re lucky – indoor courts. We’ve had several children go onto play at the local centre, but it was on their own initiative.
Owen Gibson wrote for The Guardian that ‘it won’t be changing one thing that transforms tennis in this country but marginal gains across a multitude of areas’. This seems to me to hit the nail on the head.
Pushing players in a consistent direction, making coaching accessible with lower prices and making tennis ‘ordinary’ is all part of the solution. We need to give our juniors tennis on a plate for them to choose us over football.