The biggest challenge we faced for this event, given the high standard of trialists eager to play, was picking the squad. This was our first tennis competition in four years with only eight places available, four from each gender. Many of the children from Year 5 and 6 were of equal level and so we looked to give some of the Year 6 girls’ who had little experience of competition sport an opportunity to show case the skills they had learned in PE lessons. We were also loyal to children who had morning tennis sessions, with coach Kieron, from 8am until 9am every Tuesday morning.
Set in the more leafy area of Fulham, Bishop’s Park offered a fantastic setting for us to develop our skills in the context of a tournament. Knowing that the standard of other schools would be at a high level we knew we had to be tactically and technically focused in order to compete. We also wanted to see the children use the etiquette associated with tennis such as using line rules and calls, handshakes and respect for the umpires from St Paul’s girls school.
Traditional tennis rules applied albeit with a slightly reduced length of court and a softer ball that was more suited for Junior Tennis. We were divided into two teams, St John XXIII A and B, based on rank and grouped with the Free School’s of Earl’s Court and West London in our league, who would have some excellent players. All four teams would play each other in 4 singles matches per match. So 12 matches in total.
Salvaging 2-2 draws in both our opening fixtures for team A and B, we started to settle into the tournament being more aware tactically and technically to sustain rallies with our opponents. Through better ball placement, accurate serving and moving our opponents around the court we were able to grind out more points and subsequently win more matches.
Our A team won 9 matches, losing 3 with a special mention to Nyah who won all of her matches and to Roman who won a crunch match 5-4 in his final game under some pressure much to adulation of his team mates. Whilst our B team won 4 and lost 8, they showed terrific competitive spirit throughout and can be incredibly proud of their progress this term given their lack of tournament experience, with some being new to tennis this year. Michaela showed great resilience to win her last singles match after a slightly shaky start with her serve in the opening fixture.
The event had the children hooked and they were keen to carry on playing after the event had finished. However, our bus was due and it was time to head back and reflect on a fantastic competition. The children showed their ability to apply their skills from all areas of PE and compete with children who clearly have dedicated much time to the sport. Their progression and growth throughout the tournament was great to see as well their sense of sportsmanship, camaraderie and respect to the officials and coaches.