As the GB coach for the Blind & Visually Impaired GB Tennis Team, attending the III World Championships in Spain, I have been asked what do you do…..
Benidorm was the venue, but there was going to be no chance for Team GB to sit in the sun and find the beach……there was work to be done on court, and the players worked their magic!
The week comprised of
Saturday 8th June - Players meet at the National Tennis Centre, and a chance to get on court for 3 hours next to the Junior Deaf Camp. An opportunity for myself to catch up with National Deaf Manager/Coach, Catherine Fletcher (a former player/student at Leeds Metropolitan University, who has achieved at the highest level - Gold at Deaflympics). Onto a meal and Q&A session from the players.
Sunday 9th June - Early rise, taxi to Gatwick and off we go! Arrive at Alicante airport, transfer and then straight into the opening ceremony and presentation on IBTA (International Blind Tennis Association). Evening meal, hotel orientation and bed!
Monday 10th June -
AM - Breakfast and jump onto early bus to the outdoor tennis courts at IQL Tennis Academy. GB had practiced scheduled from 9:30 - 11:30, and with 8 players in a variety of classifications, plus supporting a player who trained in GB but was representing Pakistan, it was a full morning. As a coach working with players in a variety of classifications, with different number of bounces allowed, and a group of players with excitement/nerves for the week ahead, the plan of the session was to ensure all players settled, feet were moving on court, hitting paths lengthened, players motivated and points played. It was unusual for many players playing on outdoor courts, working against the sun and trying the different coloured sound balls.
PM - Players rested by the pool. Coach (Lou) and Manager (Claire) - no such rest! After a very quick walk to see the beach, we were in meetings about the tournament from 3pm. Dinner at 7.30pm, Team Meeting 9pm to outline the schedule for the following day and answer any questions/worries from players.
Tuesday 11th June -
AM - Early rise. I had schedule a pre-breakfast practice. So 6.30am, players met and off we went to the outdoor tennis courts, to start practice at 7am. As the only nation that had planned this, we had the luxury of 6 courts available to us, the stillness and coolness of the morning (no breeze/sun rising but no heat), no other sounds except the laughter to the GB players, the sound of racket strings striking the sound ball and the bounce of the ball on the court. A great 2 hour session, players worked hard and it was evident that pre tournament nerves had gone. Team GB walked out of the IQL Tennis Academy towards the hotel for breakfast, as a confident and cohesive team - a great memory. Back at the hotel, time for breakfast and then to jump on the transport to sight classification. As a fairly new sport, which is working towards Paralympic status, it is important that all players competing in the tournament are sight classified at the event. This is the least enjoyable experience for players and as a coach, the role is to support, to listen, assist in completing numerous forms and ensure players are ok following the classification procedure (which is very tiring for players). Team GB’s classifications were confirmed and players were now registered for the tournament. Classification for the tournament, took 2 days to complete for all the players attending.
PM - Players had a rest afternoon, but again Louise and Claire had no time for time off. Draws for the tournament were completed post classification and the schedule of play announced. IBTA meetings continued into the early evening. Dinner, Team meeting at 9pm with schedule announced for the following day.
Wednesday 12th June -
Early breakfast, onto the transfer bus and then Team GB jumped onto the practice courts at the competition venue. Their first opportunity to hit in the venue, caused many questions and concerns. The coaches role is to settle players, remind players they can only control the controllable, allow questions and concerns and create a GB camp in the venue. B1 players could get onto their match courts and opportunity to orientate to their environment. Matches started at 10am, and players were reminded of the schedule. 8 courts were in play, Claire was umpiring throughout the day, with myself supporting the players on and off the court. With 9 players to support, watch, video it was a very full day which finished at 7pm. Back on the bus, straight to dinner and then team meeting at 9pm, to discuss the days play, the following days logistics/schedule and ensure all players ok. Back to hotel room to transfer all video footage and then to bed!
Thursday 13th June -
Repeat of Wednesday, players aiming to get out of the round robin stages and into the quarter final stages. A great show of tennis was displayed by the players and all 9 players reached the quarter finals. Some great friendships were being forged with the players/coaches in the other nations and some great learning on and off the court for players and coaches alike! Late transfer to hotel, dinner, team meeting, video transfer and bed.
Friday 14th June -
Repeat of Thursday but Quarter Finals and Semi Finals for the players. Great tennis was displayed on the court, and players listened to strategy and tactics given by myself prior to them going onto court. Late into Friday evening, there were just 2 players, an umpire, 2 supporting coaches and the tournament organiser left in the building, as Team GB competed against France in the B3 Women’s 3/4 play off. A long,hard fought match, saw GB take Bronze - a fantastic result. Back at the hotel, it was dinner, team meeting, transfer of videos and bed.
Saturday 15th June - FINALS DAY
Team GB had a busy day ahead. With finalists in the B1 Women, B2 Men & Women, B4 Men & Women, the players knew what was needed. A professional and competitive attitude was observed from all the players, and the team supported their team mates from the side of the court. The players gave everything on court, and left the court with heads held high and the knowledge they had played a very competitive match. As a coach, I left the court absolutely shattered, having played every point that all the players had played!! WOW what a day and what an achievement by team GB. After the last ball had been hit by a GB player, there was now the opportunity for the team to celebrate their week, let their hair down and have a celebratory drink. Presentations and photos were completed and then back to the hotel for dinner, team debrief and Players player of the week awarded and then the celebrations began!
Sunday 16th June -
A very early start, players packed their trophies and the journey home commenced.
So back in the UK - full of reflections and memories from the tournament. Player videos are being edited, coaches contacted, player reviews and the next performance camp being planned. Work doesn’t stop, learnings taken from the week are now being implemented into the next phase and players step back onto the training court, proud of their individual and team performance, but knowing the hard work starts now for the next tournament…….
🇬🇧Rachel Morgan – London (B1 Ladies) - Gold 🇬🇧Amanda Large – Manchester (B2 Ladies) - Gold 🇬🇧Rosie Pybus - Middlesbrough (B4 Ladies) - Gold 🇬🇧James Currie – Manchester (B2 Men) - Silver 🇬🇧Neil Fradgley – Isle of Wight (B4 Men) - Silver 🇬🇧Paul Ryb – London (B3 Men) - Bronze 🇬🇧Sarah Fortescue – Milton Keynes (B3 Ladies) - Bronze 🇬🇧Christopher Blake – London (B3 Men) - Quarter-Finalist Naqi Rizvi (Pakistan) - London (B1 Mens) - Bronze
Thank you to the LTA, Claire McCulloch (GB Manager), all the organisers in Spain, Sam and all the players - a great week to be involved in and to make new friends.
For the official news, please see the link from the LTA website https://www.lta.org.uk/about-us/tennis-news/news-and-opinion/general-news/2019/june/great-britain-strike-gold-at-2019-international-blind-tennis-tournament/