What makes the tennis academy at Ellesmere so successful?
Success comes in many forms. To be sure, in terms of winnings, this team has been phenomenally successful, taking major trophies in the Senior Students Nationals last year – they were mixed doubles champions for the third consecutive year and also took the girls’ doubles trophy and were runners up in the boys’ doubles. The boys’ team reached the finals of the Glanville cup last year making them one of the 16 best teams in the country.
This success is built on well-organised training sessions with players at a similar level. As Ole Linne, captain of the boys’ team says, ‘Relatively small training groups allow coaches to focus on single players in order to improve their technique and performance.’ He also comments that Ellesmere has offered him the facilities to improve his game and play at a higher level. His LTA ranking has gone up from 10.2 to 4.1 over the last 3 years.
Tennis success is clearly the main aim of a tennis academy, but what is impressive too is a different kind of success – it is the fact that the tennis players have confident smiles on their faces and the internationals in the group are fully integrated in the life of the school. A typical bus-load of the tennis teams will include students from many countries, where English is the team language. ‘It’s fun to have lots of nationalities,’ says Isabella Eckstein, girls’ captain this year, ‘It supports you and it’s enjoyable.’ ‘The mutual thing they share is tennis, but they share so much more,’ says Stephen. In fact, a very high percentage of the tennis academy are international with students from Germany, Lithuania, China, France and Poland making up the majority of the teams.
Teams – is this the key? The coach and the players certainly think so. Stephen Welti, head coach says, ‘We think they will develop better as individuals if they feel they are part of a team.’ The students attest to this feeling of winning as a team and egging each other on to do better. Also there are four different levels of teams from recreational to elite, so that everyone is aware of their level and perhaps this makes it easier for everyone to be part of a team and feel confident.
Confidence – is this the key? Polite, robust confidence is certainly the impression one gets of a member of the tennis academy. This becomes especially clear amongst the Chinese students – who can sometimes be so reticent and quiet one feels they are trying to be invisible in the jostle of a British boarding school. But not the tennis players. Meet Sammy Leung, from Hong Kong, ‘The experience and achievements I’ve had within the tennis academy, will help me continue on a similar track in the future.’ He says he has met people from all over the world and that communication is the key to success both within the team and between players and coaches. ‘The coaches are very friendly, so we feel comfortable.’
Feeling comfortable – is this the key? They are certainly comfortable in their teams and comfortable with their tennis peers and their coaches. But is there more than this? Is it not perhaps that being part of the tennis academy is something that brings automatic respect from the school community, and that it is this respect that makes them all feel comfortable and accepted at school? Perhaps not many internationals can be part of the rugby, shooting or swimming elite, but tennis – there’s a sport that all nationalities understand. Does feeling that respect give them the confidence to integrate fully?
Or is it simpler? Does all the speaking practice in the bus and in matches and practices just make the tennis team’s internationals more confident? Whatever the reasons, there is no doubt that the tennis academy is a place where success of many kinds is fostered.