Why Britain’s hunt for a new tennis hero needs a magic ingredient... excitement

British tennis will struggle to find new champions until schools and communities make the game exciting and accessible, an AXA study into young people’s ambitions has concluded.

15 June 2011

Posted in Financial results

by Jennifer Chilcott (see media contact)

With the Wimbledon Championships just around the corner, tennis fans are hoping that Andy Murray can follow his victory at Queen's with the biggest win of his career. But new research has discovered evidence that Britain's hunt for a new generation of tennis champions is going to be tougher than expected.

Many children don't feel encouraged to play tennis, and say they don't have access to facilities. And a wide-ranging survey of 2,000 youngsters, carried out in support of the Ambition AXA Awards, shows that plenty say they don't relate to the game, don't know about it, or just don't like it.

Worryingly, many young people don't seem to know the basic facts. When asked to name the world's top men's tennis player, a whopping eight per cent named Boris Becker - who retired over a decade ago. The same percentage said the Number One player was Tim Henman - who stopped playing in 2007, but was never ranked higher than four in the world. Ten per cent thought it was Andy Murray, who's actually never been Number One. Despite his worldwide celebrity, fewer than half the people in our survey got the answer right by saying Rafa Nadal.

So what can be done? The Ambition AXA Awards survey comes up with a strong manifesto - Britain's children need to feel that tennis is more attractive to them, and they need to have better access to facilities.

Asked to identify problems in getting into the sport, nearly four in ten (38 per cent) of young Brits say they don't play tennis because it is not focused on at school in the same way as football.

When it comes to actually playing the sport, one in five say they do not have facilities in their area to let them learn the game, while 16 per cent say the problem with tennis is that it too expensive to play. A further 13 per cent say their lack of interest is down to the sport's overall lack of popularity, while 11 per cent said it was a ‘summer sport’, so they wouldn't play for the rest of the year. It sounds like nobody's ever told them about indoor courts - or perhaps those people don't have access to year-round facilities.

Even those who do take it up tend to fall away from the sport as they get older. Among 11 to 16-year-olds, 25 per cent of those questioned say they play tennis - but this tails off to just 17 per cent among 17 to 18-year-olds.

Now it's up to British tennis to react to these findings. The message seems clear, though - there are millions of British youngsters who could be enthused to take up tennis, but they need facilities, and an urgent dose of encouragement.

The study into ambition in young people was commissioned to support AXA's initiative the Ambition AXA Awards. The £200,000 awards scheme for 11-18 year olds with extreme talent was launched in April to reward UK youngsters' achievements in Enterprise, Science, Community, Sport and The Arts. Five talented young people could each win a bespoke mentoring prize worth up to £40,000 (a total prize fund of £200,000). The winners will be announced on 30 November 2011, after which the judging panel will help the winners to create a development package that will help them to achieve their goals.