WITH the excitement of Wimbledon still in every tennis fan’s mind and the British Summer out in full force, it seemed the perfect time to brush up on my tennis skills with Oswestry’s top tennis guru, Mike Markham.
But, as luck would have it, the day I had arranged to have a tennis session, the heavens opened for the first (and only) day in more than a week and as I walked onto the courts in Cae Glas Park I wondered if we would even play.
Mike was there when I arrived, keen as ever, so I knew I would most definitely be playing tennis despite the rain. We did a warm-up and soon I was clutching onto a tennis racket, nervously waiting for the ball to come flying my way.
First, we were going to do some simple shots. Mike was telling me this while ‘dribbling’ a tennis ball with ease, so accurately it was obviously second nature to him.
Being a competitive person, especially in sports, I was ready for this. I dived left and right, forwards and backwards, hitting every shot he sent to me. “I haven’t picked up a tennis racket since school, and here I am hitting everything,” I thought to myself.
But Mike soon put me right. Mimicking my use of the racket, he explained that I needed to fully swing the racket right over my shoulder after hitting the ball, rather than just tap the ball and stop moving. I was also standing all wrong, sideways on to the court and not being mobile enough with my feet.
We started again and this time all I was to focus on was my swing. It was amazing to see how much more power I had when I allowed my arm to keep swinging over my opposite shoulder. The only problem then was that the tennis balls were rocketing all around the place with no hope of staying within the lines, let alone the same court! We did have to retrieve a few from outside the court we were playing in.
Then Mike announced I was going to attempt a serve.
At school, the one thing I could never do in tennis was a serve. My feeble attempts to throw the ball in the air then hit it either landed in the net or missed the racket completely.
I didn’t feel confident at all this time. He gave a few examples, and as always they were perfectly executed. Gently throw the ball up, a brief bend in the knees, the racket comes over and ‘whoosh’ over the net it goes.
Mike said his record speed for a serve was just under 100mph. “It’s always frustrated me that I have never made the three digits,” he said. “But in order for the speed to be counted the ball must bounce within the court.”
Of course, I wasn’t aiming for speed. I just wanted to get that ball over the net! Trying to keep all the advice in my head, my first attempt was a bit shoddy and the ball whacked into the ground not too far in front of my feet. But, after being told to focus on where I was sending the ball, I thought about each process and managed to send the ball neatly over the net to the other side. Finally! I can do a serve!
I had a big grin on my face as we went through the final task of the session. Mike threw a ball to me, and I had to play a volley across the net at two chairs that had been placed in the court. Putting together all my tips from the last hour, I was able to make a ‘high five’ action and aim the ball where I wanted it to go.
Within 60 minutes I had realised my ‘natural’ skill at tennis was not skill at all, to un-learning and re-learning the foundations that are necessary at all levels, from the group of friends having a fun game in the park to Andy Murray and all the other professionals.
I left Cae Glas Park with a new found respect for tennis and everyone who plays it, and, of course, heaps of admiration for Mike and other tennis coaches who patiently watch and help youngsters and adults become good players.
A junior coaching course is taking place at Oswestry School from July 28 for five days. The course will give people of all ages the chance to develop tennis coaching skills and can be booked for one or more days.
For more information and to book e-mail stephen@rallytogether.co.uk or text 07970 274450.