My best teacher - Pat Cash

19th February 2010 at 00:00
The tennis star hated school - and school didn't much like him. But before he turned pro at just 16, he found one teacher who broke the cycle of negativity

I hated school. I went to Whitefriars College in Melbourne, an all- boys' Catholic school. I always did well in sport, be it cricket, athletics, hockey, basketball or Aussie Rules. I was captain of the football team and the number one sprinter in the school. I loved sport and was just one of those naturally sporty guys.

I never played tennis at school though. One of the problems we have in Australia is that we don't often teach tennis during the school day, so I went to after-school tennis clubs to play.

I would play with one of my English teachers there, an Irishman called Mr Mawhinney. He liked tennis and it was good practice. He won a couple of times in the early days, but I was top in the county at 14, so it didn't take long for me to beat him. I would still never get good grades from him though.

I quit school at 16 and went professional. I wasn't sad to leave it at all. I don't think the teachers particularly enjoyed looking after all us kids.

I would always be getting the strap - a ruler across the knuckles. And I was the king of detentions. I was chatty and was constantly being told off and made to do lines like, "I must not talk in class".

I was routinely in trouble. I was actually quite a shy kid, but I enjoyed chatting with my mates. My dad went to the school once to ask them to give me a break, but it didn't make much difference.

I think they were probably jealous of me. I had real prospects as a tennis player from the age of 14. It's like tall poppy syndrome - I think they resented my ability.

I was not keen on being there. I wasn't a bad student but I would much rather be outside playing tennis. I was lucky that I knew what I wanted to do and had the skills to make it. Very few do.

But Mr Mawhinney looked out for me a little. He was very friendly. He was one of the few who wasn't always telling me to shut up.

I ran into him at the airport quite recently. I was running for a plane as usual when I spotted him. I recognised him immediately. It was nice to see him and I said hello, but I was late so I couldn't chat for long.

The other really big teacher in my life was Ian Barclay, who coached me from the age of 12 to about 30. He was like a second dad to me. I spent so much time with him, I probably saw him more than my dad. He was a massive influence.

But I don't look back at school with much fondness. I don't know what I'd have done without sport. One in a million make it and I was very lucky to be one of them.

But even if you don't make it as a sportsman, there are always other things you can do in sport, like coaching. I'm increasingly interested in the biomechanics of tennis - how our bodies respond to movement. That interest has come from me though; I'm sorry to say that most of my teachers didn't contribute at all.

Pat Cash was Wimbledon men's singles champion in 1987 and is now a tennis commentator. He is supporting Sky Sports Living for Sport, a free initiative for UK secondary schools that uses sport to inspire young people. www.skysports.comlivingforsport. He was talking to Hannah Frankel.

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