Tennis coach Jo-Anne Williamson: Give us back our sport for everyone's wellbeing

Tennis coach Jo-Anne Williamson: Give us back our sport for everyone's wellbeing

Tennis coach Jo-Anne Williamson

THE chains are still tightly wrapped around the gates of tennis clubs across our Fair Isle and with the most recent announcement that, clubs in Northern Ireland are being released from the locks that bind them on April 1st, we, in the Republic await our fate with bated breath.

Nearly a year on, our government has guided us through many stages to help to quash the spread of Covid-19, no easy task. Yo-yo closures of amenities and clubs along with the shutdown of sport.

Tennis clubs have been fully closed for over half a year apart from elite national players but the masses, the bread and butter, each clubs core, stand idly by.

The mind boggles! After lockdown one, the twenty tennis clubs in Cork alone saw a significant increase in membership. 

This was an indicator of just how popular tennis was to become.

With a natural social distance created by the open space and no contact, it would appear to be a clear front runner for a speedy return. 

Yet we still wait on the Minister to lift these restrictions and allow the country to live a sporting life once again. 

Granted, there is a fear still but for this outdoor sport? With small groups? In a space of over 2,000 sq ft? 

I for one, fail to see the rationale as the Government continues to keep sport at bay.

Our Governing body, Tennis Ireland, have teamed up with the governing bodies of other low risk sports- golf, rowing, etc. and perhaps with this heavier bit of clout behind us, we can make some progress.

A duty of care is essential but what about the positive effect on physical and mental wellbeing of players both young and old? 

Is the government really aware of the impact of not playing sport has had on people? 

When we returned to play in May last year the focus on the health and safety of tennis players was unmeasurable. 

The attention to detail became compulsive; if not slightly obsessive for me. 

My equipment, usually quite compact –grew! Gloves, sanitisers, extra balls, wipes - all a bit excessive as a study from a senior Dr in Liverpool School of Tropical Medicines, recorded that the virus is unlikely to survive on anything slightly absorbent ie tennis balls, hence confirming tennis as low risk. 

Given the fact that singles players are at long lengths from each other at any given time and a doubles court is 36 ft wide – clearly distance is not an issue.

It is shocking to think that tennis clubs have been closed for an approximate 265 out of 365 days and although Tennis Ireland are discussing reopening dates, the outlook for coaches is looking grim. 

Northern Irelands coaching guidelines have heavy restrictions on junior groups, which looks set to make a return to coaching very difficult.

Jo-Anne Williamson
Jo-Anne Williamson

It makes no sense to me how a classroom with 20 + children from different families is operational but playing outdoor tennis alongside a few households is a risk!

In NI junior coaching pods are no more than 4, with a maximum of one household per court side. Clubs will find this close to impossible to coordinate. Ages, abilities - these barriers have not been considered. 

Our hard working representatives in Tennis Coach Ireland have an uphill battle to plead with Tennis Ireland and Sport Ireland to see how nonsensical this is and fight our corner once again!

A low risk sport- players from preschool to pensioners all wait. I hate to think of the financial impact these restrictions of closure and group limitations will have on the clubs and coaches. With a stronghold of nearly 300 members of TCI, I would imagine this pandemic has caused many full-time coaches to rethink their career.

Many of my peers have had to consider alternative career paths. It will be a sad day when the clubs eventually open to the influx of the frustrated, tennis mad members but with fewer coaches to work.

We're all feeling the burn and the loss of sport. We long to hear the crunch of the court beneath our feet, the joy of swinging freely in open air, the soft thud of felt on string. Our government needs to see the benefits far out way the risks in a sport like tennis. 

Tennis Ireland is fighting our corner but I feel it's falling on deaf ears. Loosen the parameters and open the clubs. 

Take that huge leap to reintroduce sport for the health and wellbeing of the Irish people.

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