Love it or loathe it, the long summer of sport is upon us. Phil Revell looks at how schools can benefit by taking part
Each year, thousands of children become hooked on tennis for the first time thanks to the Wimbledon Championships, but how can schools turn this enthusiasm to educational advantage? Well, aside from keeping fit, your pupils can also learn about history, biographical writing and maths.
The origins of tennis are a mystery. The first game resembling it was played in France and one theory is that the word "tennis" comes from the French "tenez" ("take it" or "play").
By the 11th century, a form of tennis was being played in French monasteries using a rope stretched across the cloistered central quadrangles. By the 15th century, "real tennis" had arrived in England. In this version of the game, players rebounded the ball off nearby walls into the opponent's side of the court. Both Henry VII and Henry VIII were keen players. Legend has it that Henry VIII heard of the execution of Anne Boleyn as he played tennis at Hampton Court. It is also said that Henry invented the "service" - his servants used to throw the ball up in the air for him because he was too fat to do it himself. There are 17 "real tennis" courts in the UK, and the indoor game, with its balconies and galleries, is still played at Hampton Court.
The game's popularity waned in the 17th century, but the Victorian era marked a revival in its fortunes when Major Walter Wingfield came up with a new version using modified rules. So it was that in 1877 the All-England Croquet Club came to hold the first Wimbledon lawn tennis championships.
The 1998 Wimbledon tournament, which runs from June 22 to July 5, will mark the 112th time the lawn tennis championships have been held. The game has had many British heroes and heroines in its long history - Tim Henman becoming the latest when he made the quarter-finals in 1996. The last British man to win the title was Fred Perry in 1936. British women players, however, have been more successful - Virginia Wade won Wimbledon in 1977, the championship's centennial year.
Have you got a budding sports star in your class? You could well have - many successful athletes catch the bug early. Here's one tennis hero's story: Tim Henman was born on September 3, 1974. He began playing tennis when he was just three and at the ripe old age of five he announced his ambition to make a career of the game.
Tennis is in Tim's blood, so his choice of profession was perhaps not too surprising. His dad, Tony, played to county standard and his grandfather, Henry Billington, was a regular at Wimbledon, reaching the third round in 1948. Tim's great-grandmother, Ellen Mary Stawell-Brown, also played in the world-famous championships.
Friends and family often speak of the young Tim's single-minded dedication to the game - dedication that survived a bone disease that kept him away from sport for nearly a year when he was in his teens.
Tim was educated at a private school - Reed's at Cobham in Surrey. He left with ten GCSEs and within two years he was national junior champion in singles and doubles.
He rose rapidly up the world rankings, making the Davis Cup team in 1994 and winning his first Association of Tennis Professionals Challenger titles in 1995. In 1996 he became Britain's number one player, reaching Wimbledon's quarter-finals and breaking into the world's top 30.
The past 18 months have seen 23-year-old Tim win a silver medal in the Olympics, his first ATP World Tour title in Sydney, compete in the world championships in Hanover, and come second to fellow British player Greg Rusedski in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards - the two played doubles together in this year's Davis Cup tie in Newcastle.
Next week sees the French Open and the run-up to Wimbledon when, once again, Tim will be trying to follow in Fred Perry's footsteps with a win on the centre court.
Your pupils can test their number skills with the following problems:
* Suppose eight players take part in a knockout competition. How many rounds are played? How many matches? Repeat the above for 16 or 32 players. Can the children see why you have chosen these numbers and suggest what the next one will be?
* Can a knockout competition be devised for 10 players? (Be prepared for cries of 'It's not fair' when they learn that some players may miss a round!) Try other numbers, including odd numbers. Record the number of matches needed for different numbers of players. Can your class explain why the number of matches is always one fewer than the number of players (each match eliminates a player).
Calculations for top seeds
Harder maths problems to investigate might include:
Angle of bounce
* Draw and investigate the various angles that are involved when a bouncing ball strikes the ground and leaves it again.
* What is the trajectory of a ball when thrown or hit? Can the children draw the shape it makes? How does it vary? Is it symmetrical?
Speed of serve
* What units could be used? Find out the speeds of famous servers - compare with the speed of cars, trains and so on.
Looking good, feeling fit
The most obvious reason to bring tennis into schools is because it keeps pupils fit - and it's fun.
Sue Campbell, the chief executive of the Youth Sport Trust, says that pupils should be learning three types of game: invasion and defending games, such as football; striking and fielding games, such as rounders and cricket; and net and wall games, such as squash and tennis.
A "mini" version of tennis - short tennis - with adapted equipment and courts, gives young pupils a chance to succeed in the sport and have fun.
Long rallies, leading to heavy breathing for heart and lung fitness, are more likely to be achieved in short tennis.
Tennis also builds strength, develops hand-eye co-ordination and helps children learn the skills of competing, co-operating, accepting defeat, and winning gracefully.
What you need
* Use the space that you have available, don't worry if you don't have properly marked courts.
* Start with a warm-up activity to gently stretch muscles to avoid injuries.
* Get children used to exercise before starting. Play games in small groups that involve jumping, catching, moving together.
* Keep it simple, avoid complicated rules and make it fun.
Tips for the tops
BTTop Sport, sponsored by British Telecom, and Top Play are free programmes providing sports equipment, training and support for schools in around 170 education authorities. Activities are co-ordinated by the Youth Sport Trust. 01509 228293.
On the tennis trail
The Cliff Richard Tennis Trail is a primary school initiative that aims to help pupils in locations where the sport is not traditionally strong. It runs starter sessions, donates kit to schools and encourages promising youngsters. It has been developed by pop star and tennis fan Cliff Richard and ex-Wightman Cup player Sue Mappin. 01372 470648.
Find out more:
For further information, call the Lawn Tennis Association. 0171-381 7000.