18 April

From little acorns

Sally Kinnes

Sally is the inspiration behind Local Tennis Leagues, the organisation that has helped thousands of people back into tennis and improved their game. Thankfully she has seen her own game improve as well!

"We had tennis courts at school but no coaches, so I only played tennis there once, and maybe twice at university. So a 100% increase in activity but not, it is fair to say, in standard.  But I always liked tennis. My parents, brother and sisters played, and my dad was the chair of our tiny village tennis club. I loved to watch Wimbledon too, but didn't really have a clue how to play myself.

Eventually, two things came together that made me think tennis might be a good idea. We moved to London to a house which was 5 minutes from a great set of park courts, and my partner, Nigel wanted lessons for his 40th birthday. We went on a tennis holiday to Portugal and decided tennis was the best thing ever. Privately I was impressed with the progress you can make as a beginner in two weeks and only slightly dispirited when our coach for the week said it would be at least two years before we could play properly.

How right he was.  A good few lessons later, I had not made the amazing improvement I had hoped to make. My coach, James, said I needed to play matches and as there was no way to do that locally, he suggested I start a league myself. With his help and that of the other local coaches, we ran the very first round of the first ever tennis league in May 2005. 

Fourteen years on and 170 leagues later, running leagues has eclipsed our previous jobs as journalists and days that were filled with writing and deadlines are now taken up with new skills.

If you need to put 500 tennis players into groups in 25 leagues in a day, just ask. Want to know about park courts between Aberdeen and Plymouth? No problem. And if you find yourself having to resolve a dispute, may I recommend Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen.  For the occasional times when things between players get heated, it’s indispensable. 

As for my tennis, it is still a work in progress but I recently beat my older sister! It's not the winning that matters though. As anyone who gets into the game will tell you, the best bit by far is the people you meet and the new friends you make.'

The next singles round in Highbury Fields, north London starts on 9 May.