In a week when football and tennis shared the headlines, more than 60 players took to the courts at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton last week for the inaugural Premier League 4 Sport (PL4S) National Tennis competition.
Representing 12 Premier League and Football League clubs, the finalists began their day meeting James Ward, Britain’s No 3 tennis player, and having their photo taken with the Barclays Premier League trophy, before playing mini-tennis on the same courts used by the country’s best professionals. They rounded off the occasion with a trip to the All-England Club to watch Wimbledon
"It's been an unbelievable day for the kids," said Ian Gregory, PE teacher at Fred Longworth High School, whose pupils qualified for the right to represent Wigan Athletic in the finals and were crowned joint-winners with Stoke City. "Winning the tournament was a bonus, but this event is about the opportunity Premier League 4 Sport has given the kids.”
The Premier League 4 Sports National Tennis Finals marked the culmination of the first year of tennis being part of the PL4S programme, during which more than 1,000 young people have tried tennis at 37 projects, or satellites, run by 15 clubs from the Premier League and Football League. PL4S uses the power of the football club brand to engage and encourage young people to take part in other sports, such as tennis and, at the start of the 2012/13 season, received a boost in the form of a new £16.8 million partnership between the Premier League and Sport England.
“We’re determined that every young person should have the opportunity to discover a sport that excites them and inspires them to develop a lifelong sporting habit,” said Jayne Molyneux, Sport England Strategic Lead Youth (Community). Our partnership with the Premier League and the LTA is helping us do this and it’s great to be able to celebrate how the lives of thousands of young people are being changed.”
For Rob Dearing, head of participation at the Lawn Tennis Association, the day was a fine example of how the organisations can work in tandem for the greater good.
"Our main mantra is partnership and we know we can't develop tennis locally without partners, and Premier League clubs are a great opportunity for us to broaden the reach of the sport and start to take tennis to areas of the community that don't necessarily have a tennis court.
"With this programme we don't need a tennis court, in mini-tennis you have nets you can just pop up, and slower, bouncing balls which make it easier for kids to get involved,” said Dearing.
Sport England and the Premier league first combined in 2009 to create PL4Sport, which has engaged 69,816 young people and delivered sessions at 1,006 different venues.