My best teacher - Greg Rusedski

22nd May 2009 at 01:00
A part-time reading teacher taught this tennis champion how to control his nerves before an audience

Schoolwork didn't come as naturally to me as sport, and I had to work really hard at it. I found reading difficult when I was about eight years old - in grade 4 - so my parents moved me from my regular state school in the suburbs of Montreal to a day school in the city, called Lower Canada College. The teachers there could give you more time and the sports facilities were great.

I never wanted to be the one who got called up to read aloud in front of the class. I'd be the one standing at the back with my hand down when we were asked. I think everybody's had that feeling. But the nice thing was that everybody had to get up and do it.

I had two great teachers at the school. Mrs Parsons was my fourth grade teacher and Miss Lowe taught me reading at lunchtime. Miss Lowe was an older lady, probably in her seventies. She was a part-time teacher who would come in to see kids who needed help with reading or other problem areas. She was a very nice lady to spend time with.

She and Mrs Parsons helped me develop the confidence to be able to stand in front of the class and read a story. I learnt to develop poise, to take my time, focus on my pronunciation and not let my nerves take over. The younger you can get over those things, the better.

I didn't have any problems with reading after that, and I think that's why my parents chose that school - not only for the sport but for the extra help from teachers.

Part of the reason for choosing Lower Canada College was that my father wanted me to do more sport. It was a very good school and the sports facilities were out of this world. I felt very fortunate to be there.

It was a private school, so I was able to take 60 days off a year to pursue my tennis dreams. But I also had to maintain a good level of academia at the same time.

I guess tennis did take over my life in a way, but I still had fun as I'd get to school very early in the morning - at about 7am when school didn't start until 8.30am - so I could pick up a basketball game before class started.

My father would pick me up after school and I'd play tennis for about an hour and a half, four or five days a week, plus tournaments at the weekend. Then I'd do my homework and my physical training later.

By the seventh grade I had to do about two hours' homework a night. So it was quite full-on. I guess that gave me discipline.

I was a bit of a loner. Taking 60 days off school a year meant I had to work hard to get my grades. That was part of my regimen. If I didn't get the grades, I couldn't justify taking those days off. So I didn't really have time for other things and had to be quite disciplined from a young age. Finding time for the other things was challenging, but I knew tennis was what I wanted to do.

Some sportsmen put all their eggs in one basket and don't keep up on their school work, but my parents thought education was very important. As a sportsman, you're only ever one injury away from finishing and you need to have other options in life.

My parents wanted me to be in a position to be able to go to university if I didn't go down the professional tennis route. I decided at 15 that I wanted to become a professional player and that, if by the age of 21 I wasn't one of the top 100 players in the world, it would be time to go to university, get a degree and do something else.

I always thought I'd like to be a lawyer if the tennis didn't work out. But I don't think I was well-read enough, so I'm glad it did.

Greg Rusedski is a former British number one tennis player. He supports Living for Sport, a free programme run by Sky Sports that uses sport to motivate young people who find school difficult. See www.skysports.comlivingforsport.


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