Steve’s story: "Tennis helped me turn my life around"
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Following a battle with addiction spanning two decades, Steve McCann has rediscovered his love for tennis as he continues his recovery.
The 38-year-old has recently rekindled his love for his favourite sport after joining a Local Tennis League – the LTA’s programme offering fun, friendly competitive tennis in local communities around the country – on park courts near his home in Highbury Fields, North London.
Thanks to the help of his friends and family, particularly his partner Elle, Steve has turned his life around and is now back playing tennis with as much enjoyment as when he was a child.
Starting out at the age of 11 Steve played tennis daily with his friends near his family’s home in Barnet, North London. Tennis and Arsenal FC were his two main passions, and Steve was a regular on the junior social scene – which played a huge role in his life during his teenage years.
“I’ve loved tennis my whole life,” Steve said. “I first picked up a racket at 11 and me and my mates would play every day. Every single day. I got an LTA rating and played local tournaments in London too.
“It was just a great period of my life. Britpop was massive and I just remember playing all of the time from when I was 12-17. As soon as I got to university that stopped and I touched a racket only three times in about 20 years.”
After struggling for years with addiction and mental health issues, Steve built up the resolve to become teetotal two years ago.
Following that decision he also sought to revisit certain aspects of his life that had slipped away – including tennis.
“I made the decision to turn my life around,” he said. “It wasn’t easy or particularly fun at first, but slowly things got better. I dedicated a day at the weekend to charity work, got heavily involved in the local community and wanted to put my energy in to being of service. I am now in the position of mentoring those at the beginning of their own similar journey which is a privilege.
“With the help of my partner Elle, who is a yoga teacher and is brilliant regarding all things relating to mindfulness and wellbeing, I slowly began to get fitter and healthier. I was very underweight too, so we set about basically starting again with my health. These days I meditate in the mornings, write gratitude lists and do yoga daily which has transformed my mind and body. I’m now also three stones heavier than I was when I decided to go teetotal two years ago, which is pretty incredible.
“I also felt that I wanted to do tennis because it gave me an opportunity to do something for myself.”
With the help of a close friend who used to be a tennis coach, Steve returned to his local court three months ago – and it’s safe to say he’s smitten with the sport once again, although it wasn’t always easy.
“My childhood friend Alex, a former tennis coach and great player, worked with me to get my basics back,” he said. “I was really out of sorts when I started hitting with him and his patience was limitless. I slowly got more comfortable on the court and took time to pick a tennis coach for weekly lessons before work
“I ended up working with the brilliant Hitesh Soma at Highbury Fields who has helped me hugely. It feels like I am hitting with an old friend and he made me feel very comfortable. To be honest, I found my first few lessons pretty embarrassing as my shots were horrible but we went back to basics and now my lessons are great fun. Again, I am just in a position leaving a lesson where I am grateful to have them in my life.”
Steve had set himself a target of playing a Local Tennis League match within six months – he played six matches within three. Coincidently, the Local Tennis League Steve chose to join was at Highbury Fields, the same venue where the concept was formed back in 2005 before spreading to become the most successful programme of its kind in the country and cater for over 20,000 people in leagues up and down the country from Aberdeen to Plymouth.
Having supported the programme for a number of years the LTA acquired Local Tennis Leagues earlier this year, with an ambition to take it to more park sites across Britain and create mass participation in grass roots competitive tennis with regular, community focussed events in a friendly environment.
The move forms part of the LTA’s strategy to open up tennis and grow the game in public park courts, with local, fun and social competitive opportunities, like those provided by Local Tennis Leagues, having been shown to be a great way to encourage people to play more regularly.
Although he still naturally competitive, in keeping with the ethos of Local Tennis Leagues, the results don’t bother Steve who is content with just being back on the court and enjoying playing matches for fun.
“I have a notebook I fill in after matches and lessons with a ‘pros and cons’ list,” he said. After a couple of losses I came back with no ‘pros’ and 15 ‘cons’ then I told Elle that perhaps tennis was not for me – perhaps the door was shut after being out for so long.
“Three days later I returned to the list and added in the ‘pros’; ‘I am playing tennis again after 20 years’, ‘I am playing competitive sport again’, ‘I am well enough to play again’ and ‘playing tennis outdoors in a park is beautiful’. Suddenly, the list did not look so bad. It’s a start and, as Elle is fond of saying to me, ‘you are right where you should be’.
“It is never too late to pick it up again or even for the first time and only good things will happen if you do.”
Steve recently shared his story in a blog post here.
Join your nearest Local Tennis League
Joining a Local Tennis League is the perfect way to indulge in some friendly competition on court. Find out more through the handy Local Tennis Leagues website.