John Hutchinson Sukhdeo 'My biggest inspiration for being introduced to tennis is my father, Robby Sukhdeo'

13/10/2021

| News

Tennis coach John Hutchinson Sukhdeo has been involved in the sport for most of his life. To celebrate Black History Month the LTA IDEA Group member has written about his journey through the sport from playing to coaching and his experiences in between.

John Hutchinson Sukhdeo

When I used to mention to people that I played tennis, I was often met with responses like "For real??? I never expected that you played tennis?" or "How comes? Tennis is a white man’s sport?". I only began to challenge these responses when I began studying sport at University, studying the Sociology of sport, and why certain classes and demographics participate in certain sports. Learning about the history of traditional British Lawn Tennis clubs in the past, and their social exclusion of the working class, using the sport as an instrument for a middle-class image. 

What became frustrating however, was reflecting on my own experience as a junior tennis player, reminiscing on the feeling of being an outsider at tennis clubs, and questioning, what had really changed? 

My father was born in Guyana and immigrated to London as part of the Windrush generation

My Biggest Inspiration

My biggest inspiration for being introduced to tennis is my father, Robby Sukhdeo. He is both a tennis coach and now a tennis club owner, running the Pavilion Sports and Café in Haringey, North London. My father was born in Guyana and immigrated to London as part of the Windrush generation. Like so many children of the Windrush, has so many special qualities about his character. Some of these qualities include a faith that hard work will pay off, and that anything is possible as long as you have belief. These qualities fuelled the success of the Pavilion Sports and Café, where I witnessed my dad go from a part time tennis coach and technician, to owner of his own tennis club. 

Before he started his business however, he invested a fair bit of time and money (which he loves to remind me it was money he couldn't afford) into my own tennis journey. He would coach me and also take me to another local North London coach who was Ghanaian. He would constantly remind me it was important for myself as a junior player, to see people like himself and Joe (my Ghanaian coach) to witness that anyone can play tennis. 

Giving up the sport due to feeling like an outsider

However, as I began to play more competitively, it led me to playing in different squads and tournaments across London. By this point I was around the age of 14/15 and just couldn't shake the feeling of not fitting in. At times when you are the only person of colour in a room/clubhouse/squad full of white people, you begin to feel an unshakable feeling of not belonging. I began to compare my junior tennis experience to my experience playing youth football. At all the football clubs I had ever played in, there was always an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere, no matter what colour or class you are. But the same couldn't have been said about my experience with junior tennis growing up. That feeling was only reinforced when watching tennis on TV, seeing the diversity in football compared to tennis.  All of the above eventually led me to giving up the sport around the age of 16. 

Black History Month and why it’s important

It is great that the LTA are acknowledging Black History Month, as it is a month where many unsung heroes’ stories can be celebrated, often ones who are overlooked. Black History needs to be celebrated for more than just one month, but through raising awareness of people’s stories and experiences this month, we can begin to work towards a more inclusive society. If we can create an inclusive society in tennis clubs across the country, we can make it happen anywhere. 

Future aspirations

I have a lot of hope that the climate of tennis is beginning and already changing. The LTA have acknowledged that more needs to be done, and now have established the IDEA group to help drive inclusion and diversity into tennis, in line with its vision to open up tennis to many more people. I am now back coaching tennis across Haringey, and working as a primary teacher too, with a constant recognition to the need for our young people to see diversity in teaching, in coaching and in positions of power. I was lucky enough to see my dad make it seem possible, and I have the belief that positive change will only grow from here. 

I have been lucky enough to travel back to Guyana, where my father was born, and work as a coach for the Guyanese Lawn Tennis Association. Post covid, we will be working towards a partnership between the Pavilion Sports and Café and tennis in Guyana, continuing the ethos that tennis can be played anywhere and by anyone. 

The LTA Inclusion Strategy sets out how the LTA will continue to change the culture of tennis in Britain to be more inclusive, which is absolutely central to our Vision of Tennis Opened Up. To find out more about the strategy, please click here

Black History Month takes place across the month of October and aims to promote and celebrate Black contributions to British society, and to foster an understanding of Black history. This year’s theme is ‘Proud to Be’, inviting Black and Brown people of all ages throughout the UK to share what they are proud to be.

Share article

  • Print