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Few faults in schools tennis service

Anyone for tennis? Although too much should not be read into the growing number of entries for the Scottish Schools Team Tennis Championships, things are on the move in the serve-and-volley game.

There are two connected reasons: facilities and coaches. Scotland at long last has worthwhile indoor centres, where the game can be played throughout the year, and the staff to run them.

There are four major new facilities, all with development officers. Karen Ross is at Westburn Park in Aberdeen, where there are four indoor courts as well as four grass and five floodlit outdoor courts; Fiona Reid is at Craiglockhart in Edinburgh, with six indoor and eight outdoor courts; Rob Hardie is at Scotstoun in Glasgow, the biggest indoor centre with eight courts inside and three outside; and Derek Croall is at Stirling University, where there are four indoor and four outdoor courts.

Most of the funding for the centres has come from Wimbledon profits distributed through the Indoor Tennis Initiative, although local authority partnerships have helped set up the development officer posts.

The development officers have to maintain a balance of coaching programmes and "pay-to-play" and, according to the Scottish Lawn Tennis Association's senior development officer, Ian Woodcraft, they work "jolly hard". "The centres have been very, very successful, with usage well above the national average for Britain, which is 64 per cent. At Aberdeen, for example, it is 72 per cent. The demand is certainly there."

The next phase is to develop satellite regional centres. The target areas are the Highlands, the Borders, South Ayrshire and Tayside.

There were entries from all over the country for the Ritchie of Edinburgh Scottish Schools Team Tennis Championships, the finals of which were held at the Craiglockhart centre last week. Some 150 schools were listed as competing, although the figure is slightly misleading because all teams that played last year were automatically entered and not all came along.

"There's a lot more interest," says Mr Woodcraft. "The SLTA is now giving a much better service to schools. We're better prepared and we've much better knowledge of what the schools are looking for and how to guide them. We've provided new courses as a result of asking schools to share what they feel about the whole thing."

The SLTA has three schemes for schools, all linked to PE in 5-14 expressive arts: the Midland Bank National Schools Tennis Coaching Programme; the Cliff Richard Tennis Trail; and the Nestle Tennis Teaching Programme.

In the Midland Bank scheme, 10 schools, a mixture of secondary and primary, are given a series of lessons following a pre-coaching teacher day, and equipment is given free of charge; schools are also linked to a local club.

On the Cliff Richard Trail, 10 primary schools are chosen in the locality of the tennis courts and 20 hours of coaching are provided in the schools. Coaches re-visit schools and do a little talent spotting to encourage outstanding players. The Nestle programme is aimed at teachers and students, introducing them to short tennis and full games, and is available in twilight and full courses.

Mr Woodcraft is at pains to stress that the SLTA is not trying to corner the market: "We don't believe that people should be tennis players only - it's good for co-ordination to play other sports as well."

But there is no doubt that when it comes to service to schools, tennis now has a lot of the aces up its sleeve.

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