Monday 07 July 2014
For the participants at the inaugural Premier League 4 Sports National Tennis Finals, the day spent at the National Tennis Centre and the All-England Tennis Championships will live long in the memory, but those involved in the project believe the long-term impact of the initiative will leave its most enduring impression.
"The whole initiative has been a massive success for us"
Zac Taylor, Wigan PL4S
The 60 or so finalists began their day at the National Tennis Centre, in Roehampton, Surrey, meeting James Ward, Britain’s No 3 tennis player, having their photo taken with the Barclays Premier League trophy before playing mini-tennis on the same courts used by the country’s best professionals. They rounded off the occasion with a trip to the All-England club to watch Wimbledon.
"It's been an unbelievable day for the kids," said Ian Gregory, PE teacher at Fred Longworth High School, whose pupils qualified for the right to represent Wigan Athletic in the finals and were crowned joint-winners with Stoke City. "Winning the tournament was a bonus, but this event is about the opportunity Premier League 4 Sport has given the kids.
"After taking up tennis, the two girls have found it's a game they enjoy and coming here today has only increased their excitement for the sport. They've never been to London before either, let alone the National Tennis Centre or Wimbledon."
The Premier League 4 Sports National Tennis Finals marked the culmination of the first year of tennis being part of the PL4Sport programme, during which more than 1,000 young people have tried tennis at 37 projects, or satellites, run by 15 clubs from the Premier League and Football League. PL4Sport uses the power of the football club brand to engage and encourage young people to participate in other sports, such as tennis and, at the start of the 2012/13 season, received a boost in the form of a new £16.8 million partnership between the Premier League and Sport England.
"PL4Sport looks at getting young people playing sports," Zac Taylor, Wigan Athletic's PL4Sport co-ordinator. "The ones we chose at Wigan are basketball, badminton, tennis, volleyball, athletics and table tennis. We have 20 satellites around the Wigan borough. It gives them a great opportunity to be associated with the football club in a different way than just football, which may not be everyone's cup of tea.
"The whole initiative has been a massive success for us. We were set targets by the Premier League of 680 engaged young people and we’ve got more than 1,000 so we’ve had a massive impact on the community this year. It’s been a great Year 1 and we’re looking forward to Year 2."
There was healthy competition among the girls, with little to choose between Wigan's and Swansea City's representatives, who played out a wonderful singles final, but the emphasis of the event was very much placed on fair play, enjoyment and social interaction.
PL4S: The story so far
69,816 young people engaged
PL4S sessions delivered at 1,006 different venues
997,867 total contact hours with young people
35% females engaged
Swansea's coach Sam Munson revealed his team had not even been selected purely on ability.
"This initiative is all about inclusion," he said. "We're trying to get players that haven't maybe played before or for a long time back into tennis, so we said we were going to base our selection criteria more on attendance to sessions, inclusion of others, and attitude towards authority and attitude towards other players."
"Today that decision was justified because none of the players let themselves down. They came third, conducted themselves really well and had a wonderful day. This PL4Sport project is outstanding because it's given a lot more of these non-tennis players the chance to become more involved in the tennis community and it's great for them to represent the Swans as well."
For Rob Dearing, head of participation at the Lawn Tennis Association, the day was a fine example of how two sporting organisations can work in tandem for the greater good.
"It was a lot of fun because the ability level varied and there wasn't too much pressure
Lara, 15, Swansea
"Our main mantra is partnership and we know we can't develop tennis locally without partners, and Premier League clubs are a great opportunity for us to broaden the reach of the sport and start to take tennis to areas of the community that don't necessarily have a tennis court," Dearing said. "With this programme we don't need a tennis court, in mini-tennis you have nets you can just pop up and slower, bouncing balls which make it easier for kids to get involved. It’s great today to see all the kids today in their football shirts really having a good time with each other.
"All of the kids coming here today and playing in a little competition at the National Tennis Centre and then experiencing Wimbledon will hopefully inspire them."
After a four-hour trip from South Wales, Lara, from Swansea, enjoyed the day.
"It's been really exciting to get the opportunity to play here," said the 15-year-old. "It was a lot of fun because the ability level varied and there wasn't too much pressure, so it was just really enjoyable. The only problem is I promised my younger brother I would give him my Swansea shirt and I’m beginning to regret that already."
As well as getting to keep their club shirts the winners, Wigan and Stoke City, each received a new racquet.
"Today was brilliant," said Stoke’s Alex Blow, 14. "We just wanted to avoid coming last really, then we said at least fifth, but then we won. We couldn’t have asked for a better day, with the good weather."
"It was good to meet new people, too," said his 15-year-old doubles partner Matthew Baker, from Painsley Catholic College, Cheadle."But our mates at school will be a bit jealous when they find out that we got some new racquets as well."
Jessica Thompson, 15, from Queen Elizabeth School, Barnet, also enjoyed helping Tottenham Hotspur come fifth. "Seeing how many other people were playing helps you realise what a great sport tennis is and today's event made it a lot more fun. It makes you want to do better and just carry on playing and meeting new people. I'm going to try to get some of my friends to play because it’s a lot of fun and a good way to keep fit while being together."
"It's a great initiative and wonderful to see the Premier League clubs taking a real interest and leading role"
Caroline Nokes, MP
Having fun is integral to maintaining the interest of young people in sport, and for Caroline Nokes, MP for Romsey and Southampton North, it is such initiatives as PL4S that help nurture this love of sport.
"I always say schools are failing if they send 16-year-olds out into the world without a sport they want to play," said Nokes, who was at Roehampton supporting Cantell School, representing her local club, Southampton. "They don't have to be brilliant at it but you want them to have an enjoyment so they can carry on playing for the rest of their lives.
"That's what you see here: kids learning tennis but predominantly having a brilliant time, and it's a great opportunity to come somewhere like this.
"It's a great initiative and wonderful to see the Premier League clubs taking a real interest and leading role. Whatever your community your football club tends to be something iconic that everybody aspires to. The clubs' charitable arms such as the Saints Foundation take sport out into the community, to young people and encourage them in a whole range of sports, not just football."
"Football is a massive draw and it’s great to see that being exploited in a way to encourage young people into experience a whole range of sports, whether it's volleyball, tennis, table tennis, things that they might not necessarily have tried. So it's a clever way to use the excitement and glamour of the Premier League to have kids playing more sport."
In the case of Wigan, PL4Sport has boosted the numbers of people playing sports, among young women, who are traditionally lost to sport.
"That's the great thing about PL4Sport: it targets that drop-out age of 14-25," Taylor sad. "The whole project's done really well, even engaging females, where we've surpassed our engagement target. That's largely due us choosing non-contact sports like tennis and badminton where girls can compete equally with other girls.
"Take the two girls with us today. They have gone on to join a local hub club from the project. So from playing recreationally at the satellite they’ve progressed to playing at their local community club as well. Competitions and projects like this give the kids a real incentive to be involved with the football club and the community. And our girls are proof of the benefits of this wonderful initiative."