The best of both worlds – Freya Christie on the TASS Player Coach programme
As tennis takes its first tentative steps out of lockdown, we caught up with rising star Freya Christie. The Nottingham-based professional, 22, is part of the TASS Player-Coach programme – a scheme run in partnership with the Lawn Tennis Association to provide elite athletes with an alternative career path for the future.
I’ve been targeting a top 100 WTA ranking for most of my life.
I started playing tennis when I was about five or six. I’ve been based in Nottingham for most of my career and I’ve been playing at professional events for the last six years. I’ve been playing tennis on the international stage for a while now and a few years ago I made the decision to turn professional. My goal is to be a top 100 WTA tennis player.
Coaching is a passion.
I first became aware of the TASS Player-Coach programme two or three years ago as one of my friends, Andy Higham, was doing it. He was also doing the same role that I do now – TASS player-coach – at the University of Nottingham. I was training out of the Nottingham Tennis Centre with the university team and I was really interested in coaching. Andy pointed me in the right direction and the rest is history!
It’s been invaluable to see tennis from a different perspective.
Being part of the TASS programme means I’m developing my skillset and it’s great to be able to look at tennis from a different angle. It’s been beneficial to every aspect of my game and I’ve gained so much experience in such a short space of time. I’ve been fortunate to work alongside such a great team in Nottingham – head coach Matt Wildt and Ash Broomhead have passed on so much to me and I feel as if I’m always learning.
Nobody ever said it was going to be easy combining playing and coaching.
Even before lockdown I never really had an average week or a set routine. It’s difficult to balance the playing side of tennis with the coaching but I do set aside a certain amount of hours to compete during the season. It fluctuates so much from week to week, depending upon whether I’m flying off to play a tournament and how far I might go in that tournament. Sometimes I’m away for three weeks at a time if there are back-to-back events but as soon as I’m back in Nottingham I’m straight back into the coaching.
It’s very tempting to coach the coach.
I have my own coach, Mark Taylor, and we’ve been working together for six years now. He thinks it’s great that I’m learning the ropes as a coach – he agrees that being on the TASS programme is such a great opportunity to gain a broader knowledge of the game. Understanding the coaching side has definitely helped with my own game. Mark and I do laugh about it – sometimes I’ll say or do something and he’ll joke that I’ll never make a coach! It’s all good fun.
I love coaching…but my playing career is only just starting.
I want to continue playing for as long as possible. Breaking into the top 100 – and staying there – is my primary focus but in the meantime there are various coaching levels for me to reach. I’ll continue working towards my coaching badges and gaining as much knowledge as possible. But I’m still an athlete, first and foremost.
TASS support is an invaluable resource
In normal circumstances I have access to all of the facilities and support that a TASS athlete can access. I can use the fantastic gym facilities at the University of Nottingham’s David Ross Sports Village and I work with the physios there. It’s something I don’t take for granted and it makes a real difference.
Working with students gives me a real buzz
Being part of the coaching team at the University of Nottingham is so rewarding. I love being able to help a player with a certain aspect of their game and see them benefit from that advice. As a current player I’m sympathetic to their situation and I see things through their eyes. If there’s a really nerve-wracking stage within a match I can relate to how that feels and try to help. I’ve experienced most scenarios as a player – good and bad.
Coaching is the perfect contrast to tour life
Being on tour is quite lonely for the majority of players. It’s nice to be able to come back to Nottingham and immediately slot into that close-knit team environment. It’s something I look forward to.
Lockdown has been tough but there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel
The coronavirus pandemic has proved challenging in many respects. Quite a few of the Nottingham teams had reached BUCS finals this year and it’s been hugely disappointing for the players that they haven’t been able to finish their season. From a personal point of view, I’ve just completed my second week back in training. Tennis is a sport that people were encouraged to play as soon as the lockdown restrictions were eased and I was back on court as soon as possible! It was so exciting to pick up a racket and hit a ball again after such a long time away from the game. I hadn’t gone that long without playing tennis since I started playing as a child. Everyone is just hoping tennis – like everything else – can return to some kind of normality sometime soon.
*Established in 2016, the TASS Player Coach programme is supporting four tennis players during the 2019/20 season as they seek to combine international competition with study towards coaching qualifications.
The 24-month programme supports the transition of athletes from playing to coaching, as well as enhancing the tennis coaching provision across the TASS network.