Tennis programme combines competition with career development


Tennis has never been an easy career choice, but a groundbreaking scheme providing rising stars with invaluable playing time and top level coaching qualifications could usher in an exciting new era for the sport.

In Andy Murray and Johanna Konta the next generation of tennis hopefuls don’t need to look far for inspirational role models flying the flag for homegrown tennis. In isolation, however, inspiration is rarely enough.

Finding the time, the money, the coaching expertise and the off-court support is another challenge altogether and even the most talented players would freely admit skill alone can’t guarantee a top 10 world ranking.

For a carefully selected group of English tennis’ 20-something hopefuls that inclusive package of on and off-court support has become a reality.

An opportunity has arisen for the cream of the crop to combine a full-time tennis career with coaching qualifications: a unique pathway has been established allowing young players to combine world class competition with career development.

Wearsider Jonny Binding is a perfect example. The 23-year-old joined the Pro Player-Coach Programme in September and its benefits have been numerous.

“I started as soon as I’d handed in my dissertation,” explained the Durham University Masters graduate. “I managed to pick up a world ranking by November – I now have official ATP singles and doubles rankings inside the top 1,800.

“It’s a start. I’ve played in Germany this year already and played all over Europe last year. Before Christmas I had two weeks in Germany, two weeks in France, two weeks in Greece and two weeks back in England.

“I have plans to play in Egypt and Israel in the next few months. The more experience I can gain of different countries and different conditions the better.

“Being part of the Pro Player-Coach Programme allows me to concentrate on becoming the best tennis player I can possibly be – and to gain a top-level coaching qualification at the same time.”

The Pro Player-Coach Programme is a project conceived and delivered by TASS and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA)/Tennis Foundation. Its goals include creating a pathway into – and from – full time tennis, offering opportunities for English players returning from US colleges and training future University head coaches.

“So far we have been able to support five University Player-Coach positions across the TASS network,” explained Colin Allen, National Lead for Sport at TASS.

“These roles provide a fantastic opportunity for an elite player to combine a full-time tennis programme while developing their coaching qualifications, skills and experience.

“This supports the transition of athletes from playing to coaching, while enhancing the tennis coaching provision across the network.”

Olivia Nicholls has seized her chance to shine with both hands. At 22, the Loughborough University Sports Science and Management graduate is fully focused on progressing through the Pro Player-Coach Programme with flying colours and proving the dual career model does work.

“The more I thought about it the more I realised it was the perfect programme for someone like me,” said the Norfolk native. “I wanted to play tennis full-time – I’d played tennis at university for three years and captained the first team in my final year – but I realised I needed some support.

“As soon as you graduate it’s difficult to find places to train and to tap into a ready-made support network. As a former TASS athlete I know all about the difference they can make and as soon as I knew they were involved in the Pro Player-Coach Programme it was a no-brainer.

“They helped me massively when I was injured – they arranged an MRI scan and helped me with the recovery process.

“TASS have a reputation for supporting student athletes competing at the highest level. A programme like this – providing player pathways and career development – is the next level.”

As part of her involvement in the programme Nicholls has retained her strong links with Loughborough – the university is her designated TASS centre and she coaches and trains alongside current students.

A Level Four coaching qualification is the ultimate aim for a player who aims to break into the ATP’s top 1,000 later this year following tournaments in Glasgow, Edgbaston and The Wirral.

Both Nicholls and Binding now know they can realistically plot a full-time future in tennis given their involvement in the innovative Pro Player-Coach Programme. And LTA chiefs hope the scheme can instil confidence and belief in a new generation of would-be Murrays and Kontas.

Alistair Higham, Universities Manager at the LTA, added: “The scheme has begun very well with six talented young players pursuing a dual career – both training and learning a coaching trade at our top tennis universities.

“Competing to a high level and travelling the world playing tennis has already given them excellent knowledge and communication skills which we are able to help them apply to a coaching situation.”

The five sites hosting Pro Player-Coach Programme posts are University of Bath, University of Exeter, Durham University, Loughborough University and University of Nottingham.

The Player-Coach must be available for 15 weeks annually – allowing them time to compete for the rest of the year.

Mentoring support is provided by an experienced coach and the tennis team at the athlet’s designated centre and players gain knowledge and experience across the tennis spectrum.

“Coaching is something I’ve always looked to do in addition to playing tennis,” added Binding. “It helps me earn some extra money to fund competitions but it also means I gain experience off the court.

“I got my LTA level 1 coaching qualification when I was 15 or 16 and gained my LTA level 2 as an undergraduate at Durham. I’m working towards the LTA level 3 qualification as part of the TASS Pro Player-Coach Programme and LTA level 4 beyond that.

“It’s an exceptional opportunity for someone like me who’s just starting out on what could be an exciting career in tennis.”