Olympic Legacy

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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

After Rio 2016 former GB tennis player and Andy Murray’s former coach Mark Petchey tells us how to encourage kids into the world of sport.

When I started thinking about how to get my two daughters in sport, I was slightly naive at what it entailed to be perfectly honest. Even though sport has been my whole life I didn’t really appreciate all of the benefits until I was a parent.

Get outside

To be frank, living in London with two lively girls on a wet day or weekend is a challenge. The best way my wife and I found to overcome the girls from bouncing off the walls was to just get outside whatever the weather. The saying goes ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing’. It’s true.

We did as many sports as we could with our daughters and allowed them to choose what they wanted to continue with as they grew up. We tried many different sports together, but I am going to focus on our experiences with tennis in particular (an Olympic sport since the Seoul games in 1988).

Former GB tennis player & Andy Murray's former coach Mark Petchey

Try tennis

We were very fortunate to have two public courts in a nearby rugby field, just five minutes from our house. I say lucky because although they were permanently locked, there was luckily a big hole in the fence someone had made, (I hasten to add not us!) All of us used to crawl through there on our hands and knees, simply to hit a few tennis balls with our daughters. It was our unofficial ‘local club’. I loved those times and clearly so did my daughters.

There’s no need to excel

Do you have to be good at the sport your kids choose to play? Absolutely not. Your sporting skills are not as important as you showing passion, compassion, commitment and consistency of approach in the face of adversity. Sometimes you need to show your children tough love as well but ultimately playing sport is their choice and you need to be ready to support all the decisions they make.

I have had calls from my daughter whilst I am in London and she has been in some distant place playing tennis. She’s been upset beyond words after losing matches, but you can only promise them that the hard work will pay off and that doing your best is always good enough. No one can ever ask more of their child than doing their best.

Olympic legacy

Olympic sports teach your children the taste of defeat, to hate the taste and then bounce back stronger. It teaches children the valuable life lesson that you cannot slink away feeling sorry for yourself when you get knocked back.

As a teenager, being committed to sport helps you manage your time better; a huge plus for children because in later life they understand how to juggle multiple commitments.  Sport teaches you that being talented isn’t enough, hard work is essential, there are no short cuts. The success that comes in sport gives a child the confidence to believe in themselves, such a vital ingredient in adult life.

For Mark’s top tips on how to get children in active sports click here