UK Coaching Week 2021: Meet Fran Jones’ first coach, who’s taking tennis to kids from disadvantaged communities
• 6 MINUTE READ
Anyone can play tennis, it doesn’t matter your age, ability or background – an ethos that London-based coach Chris Marshall from G Tennis has lived by throughout his whole career.
On UK Coaching Week, we caught up with Chris to discuss the incredible work he’s doing to bring more people from disadvantaged communities into tennis, how he supported local kids during lockdown and his hopes and ambitions for an inclusive future of tennis.
Where it all began
“I fell into coaching quite randomly” said Chris. “There was a tennis club across the road where I lived in Bradford and I had played quite a lot as a kid but fell out of it because back then we just couldn’t afford it.
“I was on a gap year working at the club behind the bar where my best friend was the coach, but he couldn’t drive so I used to get paid to assist him.
“I really got into it and loved working with the kids – it all just sort of snowballed and I picked playing back up again.
“Heaton was an amazing club with some fantastic coaches and it’s where Fran Jones started. She turned up at three-years-old and I was her coach for a couple of years!”
Moving to Larkhall Park
Chris’ career continued to grow from strength to strength, opening up a number of opportunities for him, which eventually led to him moving to work in London at the National Tennis Centre.
After working there for several years, (where Chris met his wife, Catherine Dibble) they had the opportunity to embark on a new adventure in the capital and open the sport to local communities around Stockwell.
“My wife and I had this opportunity to start at Larkhall Park in South London and we jumped at it” he said.
“The area is so diverse a real representation of how multi-cultural London is, which you don’t always get everywhere.
“We wanted to get more kids from different backgrounds down playing at the courts but we noticed quite quickly that unless the coaching was free or for very little, the diverse representation of the area wasn’t being reflected in who we got coming for lessons.
“We approached the Big Kid Foundation, who do some amazing work keeping kids off the street, as well as offer leadership programmes and mentoring and we started to run a session with them. We knew that if we wanted to compete with football and other sports, we had to make it free to get the local kids playing.”
“Another charity then approached us called Cheer, they then started bringing the children along, we provided the session and they just kept on coming. They have been running now for over 5 years!
“Understanding that you need to relate to these kids and break down the barriers to playing is really important. We have an amazing volunteer called Sebastian from Angola that helps us and we owe an incredible amount of gratitude to.
“We realised we had to make people understand that tennis isn’t just a posh middle-class white persons sport, which I think unfortunately that is the view of a lot of people.
Taking tennis to kids in disadvantaged communities
Over lockdown they decided to start a fundraiser to give young children in the local area the chance to pick up a racket for the first time when sport reopened.
“In lockdown we just tried to consider what ways we can help these kids and that’s why we set up the fundraiser,” he said.
“We decided to do a sponsor a child fundraiser associated with the LTA Youth Start course to pay for opportunities for more kids to take up tennis.
“So far we’ve raised nearly £3000 and nearly hit our £3500 target. Thanks to our lovely clients, friends and family, 100 kids from disadvantaged backgrounds will get 6 hours of coaching, a free racket, balls and t-shirt.”
But Chris’ efforts to support the local community didn’t stop there. After the first lockdown, he soon noticed the impact it was having on the kids’ activity levels and decided he wanted to do more to help.
“Coaching the kids is really rewarding,” he said. “For a lot of these children they only do one session a week so you feel they get a bit more out if it and it means more to them.
“We noticed that when some of the kids came back from the first lockdown they were actually depressed – usually they can be a real challenge and a lot came back really subdued. It hit home that a lot of these kids had been stuck inside in one bed flats without seeing any of their friends or doing any activities for months.”
“We used some of the time off to organise and raise funds for 24 of the local kids we teach from the park to have a summer holiday camping in the Chilterns over two weeks of the summer.
“The Turville Trust organise a weeks’ worth of activities for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The kids are camping for a week and go sailing, swimming and play tennis as well as loads of other activities. I caught wind of it from one of the members so got in touch and it all came together amazingly.”
"We have also decided to donate £1 of every group booking to the local food bank across the road from the park and have a food drop at the courts each week.”
Advice for the next generation
It’s safe to say that Chris isn’t your average coach.
His determination to consistently go above and beyond the call of duty to provide opportunities for kids to play tennis is truly special. But for him, the greatest satisfaction comes from the children improving their coordination and developing good technique.
“One of the nicest thing for me is seeing a child that initially struggles with their coordination improve, and then gain the confidence to play their first match,” he said.
“I know a lot of other coaches prefer performance coaching but I really take a lot of pride seeing a kid start from the bottom and then getting their first rally and start to compete.
“My biggest piece of advice for any aspiring coach is that you need to be reliable and friendly. It’s so important to be approachable and personable.
Find out more about Chris' fundraiser and how you can get involved here.
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