BUILD it and they will come. Kevin Costner’s homespun wisdom from the film Field of Dreams chimed with the gist of Blane Dodds’ comments yesterday as the chief executive of Tennis Scotland welcomed the News that one of two new national academies for tennis on these islands would be based in the Stirling area. This, surely, was a straightforward good news story, a corollary to those long years where the Lawn Tennis Association and its Scottish offshoot were severely criticised for lacking in ambition to develop the sport north of the border.
The successful Tennis Scotland bid, which won the day from a shortlist of five alongside an application from the University of Loughborough, had taken some putting together. It had been arranged in conjunction with the University of Stirling – where the existing facilities are set to receive a multi-million pound upgrade – Beaconhurst School – where the talented youngsters lucky enough to get selected will be put through their schooling – and the sportscotland institute of sport – who can advise on world class performance matters such a strength and conditioning and diet and nutrition. The hope is that this is a pathway to provide us with the next Andy Murray, with money even built in to take the kids away from the UK for a period, helping them adjust to surfaces and competitions on the continent.
Having officially been granted one of the LTA’s network of 11 Regional Player Development Centres too (in fact the cash will be spread out and augmented between three separate bases – Glasgow, Edinburgh and Stirling) to feed talented players into it from this September onwards, the national academy itself will be fully operational from September 2019, with a new head coach and assistant coach being recruited to augment the current work undergone by Scotland’s national coach Colin Fleming and pathways coach Ellinore Lightbody. When all is said and done, it is an investment in new LTA money which stretches into the millions.
So what then is the problem, if indeed there is one? Well, put in its simplest terms, as pointed up by Judy Murray in an interview in the Herald recently, in the short term there is a real chance that few, if any, Scots will actually benefit from it. With the first-year intake likely to be as little as eight players between the ages of 14 and 18 – rising to a 16 by year three of the programme – and both academies required to cater for children from all over the UK, it could even be that the new national academy starts up as a Scot-free zone. With the University of Stirling centre one of the few indoor bases this country currently boasts, that could mean less court time for young Scots on these highly prized facilities rather than more.
Dodds, on the other hand, simply can’t see any downside. Tennis Scotland, he feels, really would have been open to the charge of lacking ambition had they not acted to try to secure a world class performance centre like this on their doorstep. There may be a drop off in the talent coming through behind the likes of Aidan McHugh, who has already progressed to the LTA’S Pro Scholarship Programme, Jacob Fearnley, and Connor Thomson, but having a national academy like this on the doorstep gives the next wave of Scottish talent something to aspire to.
“There’s no downside for me,” Dodds told Herald Sport. “If we start with only eight players and two of them are Scots, then so be it. This [being selected for the academy] is a good challenge for our players to aspire to. I couldn’t allow this opportunity to pass..”
Dodds insists Tennis Scotland’s existing programmes remain untouched – including plans to improve Scotland’s patchy provision of indoor courts – and discussions are ongoing to see Judy continuing to play a key role. At last count Scotland had only one indoor court to 48,000 people, compared to one to 24,000 in England, where the weather is milder. “It is worth pointing out we wouldn’t have been successful here had Judy not ploughed the grounds with Andy and Jamie,” he added. “This wouldn’t have happened without the work she has invested in the boys over the years. We see it as a fitting legacy to be able to deliver this whole pathway.”
Source : HeraldScotland