“Having that representation on court was vital for me” – tennis coach Mekaya Gittens on nurturing community, her inspirations and continuing her father’s legacy
Mekaya Gittens is a leading tennis development coach working hard to support and develop the next generation of tennis players in Berkshire, whilst continuing her father’s legacy of encouraging young people to play sport.
The start of the Tennis Journey
The Slough local, who leads a group of six diverse tennis coaches, was first introduced to the sport when The Cliff Richard Foundation visited her school. They were travelling around the country looking to select children with potential to place into a tennis coaching programme.
Mekaya was selected along with a cohort of children from across Slough to be trained at the local tennis centre. They then supported her training for six years to start her journey to where she is now, an LTA Accredited Level 3 Coach.
“It has been an incredible journey to get to where I am now,” said Mekaya
“Passing my Level 3 Coaching was the most nerve-wracking experience of my coaching journey so far. Overcoming the fear of never thinking I was good enough, was a venture of self-development that I knew I needed to do, and it has made such a massive difference to my coaching.”
As a child Mekaya was surrounded by sport – particularly cricket, which she was introduced to by her late father. She spent a lot of time playing with him as a kid, but after she got a first taste of action on a tennis court, Mekaya never looked back.
“My dad was a cricket coach, he spent a lot of time in the community, encouraging young people to pick positive pathways and develop a healthy relationship with sport and physical activity.
“He was also coaching cricket to a high level, taking players from club to county level. I was therefore already exposed to throwing, catching, and striking skills at an early age, but when I was introduced to tennis, I realised it was the sport for me.
“Cricket was fun, a team sport and I had great respect for my dad and a good relationship with him, but when it came to him telling me what to do, there was a certain amount of resistance. Therefore, tennis was a way of escaping that.”
Following her father’s passing in 2009, Mekaya has been driven to continue his legacy. The tennis coach has worked hard to keep an inclusive tennis programme alive in Slough.
“My dad was my main inspiration for coaching. He was very supportive in getting females into cricket, breaking down cultural barriers of participation in sport. He also remained local in the community which was important, as having a consistent, relatable, committed workforce is few and far between.
“My mum and sister are very strong and independent women and they have been very influential in my life – in fact, I am extremely fortunate that I have a lot a very strong black female role models in my (extended) family and friends.”
Nurturing the Next Generation
Mekaya has worked hard to develop relationships with local venues and built an innovative cross boundary partnership with Iver Heath tennis club, to ensure the group of players she has nurtured have access to competitive playing opportunities. Mekaya continues to build opportunities for players in several age groups and progress talented players into teams, whilst also training coaches.
“I love being able to contribute to my community and seeing the difference it’s making to such a diverse group of people”, she said.
“In tennis, having played and grown up with not many people who looked like me, I understand the importance of my role, which goes far beyond coaching skills.
“I enjoy the challenges and problem solving that coaching and managing a programme throws up, especially when it means more people can access tennis more easily. The reward of improving someone’s skill level, knowing I am helping their mental well-being and creating a community around it to enhance their social interactions, is why I do it.
“Slough is such a melting pot of different backgrounds, it’s great to see what sport can do to level the playing field and get people to interact, accept and embrace their differences.”
Black History Month
The tennis trailblazer preferred playing sport to watching it in her younger years, although always took notice when she saw the Williams’ sisters playing.
“Having that representation on court was vital for me at such a young age” says Mekaya.
“Regardless of their undeniable success, this still impacted me greatly. I am so delighted to see the next generation of new players moving up such as Osaka, Gauff and Monfils to keep inspiring people.”
As we celebrate Black History Month, Mekaya acknowledges that it is a moment that has become more and more meaningful as she has matured and been able to form her own opinions.
“Black History is not taught in schools and not enough conversations are happening to help with education and knowledge, it’s almost like it doesn’t exist, but to not even acknowledge my own heritage and appreciate how I have come to be is terrible.
“I have been brought up in Slough, surrounded by people of different ethnic backgrounds, playing a sport that has traditionally not been accessible to people “like me”.
“It has taken a while for me to be comfortable in my own skin and to embrace my own culture, sounds really sad, but this is why Black History Month is important to me, it gives me/our society time to celebrate and acknowledge the sacrifices, successes others have experienced. I am a strong believer in “you can’t be, what you can’t see.”
LTA Award Recognition
The Passion that Mekaya has shown for her community through tennis was acknowledged earlier his year as she was the recipient of the Regional Development Coach of the Year at the LTA Tennis Awards, just reward for years of effort and commitment.
“I still can’t believe it, I still have to pinch myself,” she said.
“My mum keeps asking me to put the trophy up on display – she’s very proud and supportive of what I do. I prefer to work hard in the background and celebrate quietly when I feel I have achieved something. But, to receive an award like that, it was amazing.
“I always have my doubts about if I am moving things in the right direction, especially working our way through a pandemic – it’s been so tough for everyone, but it’s given me the reassurance. It’s also made me appreciate what has been done in Slough for tennis over the last decade.”
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.