'Chelsea's tennis project helped me at school'

2 Sep 2017
Lairissa, Chelsea, PL4Sport

Lairissa on how the Chelsea Foundation and PL4Sport's tennis initiative helped her develop on court and in the classroom

Lairissa Smith was a keen sportswoman, but last summer her enthusiasm for coaching and refereeing, in particular, was undermined by a lack of self-belief. She felt anxious about making decisions and addressing groups.

The 14-year-old's solution was to take herself outside her comfort zone again and develop new skills.

"I'm a bit nervous when it comes to coaching and speaking out in crowds," she says. "I coach rugby outside of school and I thought if I tried a new sport where I don't know anything it would help to boost my confidence."

Lairissa - a pupil at The Ramsey Academy in Halstead, Essex - discovered that the Chelsea Foundation offers a tennis programme, and she signed up last September.

Part of the nationwide Premier League 4 Sport initiative, the programme uses the power of professional football clubs to inspire young people to get involved in 12 different sports.

Ten months on, as well as becoming a better tennis player, Lairissa's self-assurance has improved.

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"I've got more confident with my refereeing, in rugby and tennis," she says. "I went to a Year 3, 4, 5 and 6 tennis tournament and I had to help out.

"If someone had told me at the start of the year that I would be one of my school’s tennis leaders, I would have laughed at them.

"The coaches worked where you struggled. If you struggled with being a match official, they’d stand with you and tell you whether the ball was in or out. 

"When they thought you were confident enough they would move away, but still be there to help you if you got something wrong."

Lairissa has discovered that her newfound skills as a tennis umpire have also helped her at school.

“It’s made me more confident with my decision-making, in lessons and out of it,” she says. “You think of something, you see it there and then, and you decide whether it’s right or wrong, in or out.

“If I say an answer in class I’ll feel more confident with it, and if it’s wrong I’ll feel, ‘Oh well, I put my hand up, I tried. I got it wrong, I'll move on and try again.'"

Lairissa's story, PL4Sport
Lairissa, right, earned a place representing Chelsea at the PL4Sport tennis finals at Roehampton

Lairissa’s development was recognised by being chosen to represent Chelsea at last month’s PL Tennis National Tournament, held at the home of British Tennis in Roehampton, London.

"I would never have believed it," she says. "At my school there are loads of better players. But I’m glad and proud to have been chosen, because you must have had something the others didn’t have to get here."

After the morning’s competition, the teams visited Wimbledon for the All-England Championships.

"It’s incredible,” says Lairissa. "I heard my grandad played there on Centre Court with the armed forces, so to go there and see how it would have been is amazing.

"It's not something I do with my family - they’re not really tennis fans - so to go to Wimbledon is quite cool."

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