Ace tennis coach secures her first world ranking
NICK GULLON talks to Anne Clayton about her incredible week in Spain, along with life as a coach, gender equality in tennis and getting more kids into sport.
From setting out in the cold, dark, winter months at a popular tennis club in Teesside to becoming National LTA (Lawn Tennis Association) Coach of the Year five years later, Anne Clayton’s path to become one of the most respected tennis coaches in Britain was a swift one.
The 54-year-old from Norton, Stockton, who is currently head coach at Yarm Tennis Club, has gone on to win multiple awards for her coaching skills, volunteering and contributions to tennis in the North East.
Her love affair with the sport began when she was only six years old, when she accompanied her father to a visit to his tennis club in Yarm, and never looked back.
“I liked sport in general. I’ve always enjoyed playing, competing and being part of a team, and tennis gave me that opportunity.”
She went on to play junior tennis for the county when she was 14, having already represented the club at adult level a year previously. She has since gone on to be ladies county captain for 21 years.
Asked what her proudest moment is in a coaching career now spanning well over a decade, Anne immediately points the success of Yarm Tennis Club as a whole, in particular the junior programme.
“It’s all about participation. We have over 30 kids in the under eights, and more than 100 from age nine up to 17.”
In an age when sport for children growing up can be as much about the latest football video game as physical activity, Anne is proud of the record Yarm has of retaining their juniors throughout their teenage years and into adulthood.“Sport will always have a place in kids’ lives. The ones that come to Yarm know that Friday night is tennis night. ‘We aim to provide a youth club on a tennis court.”
Alongside Yarm’s junior programme, Anne cites her work with local schools as the most enjoyable aspect of her role. She regularly visits local primary schools to conduct tennis lessons, as well as helping older students with their GCSE, A Level and Duke of Edinburgh programmes.
All of this is part of a long list of volunteer work Anne carries out. She has been the lead volunteer for LTA Durham and Cleveland council for more than 15 years, providing the vital link between the national establishment and grass roots tennis.
Anne’s accomplishments stand out even more in a sport that still battles gender equality even to this day. Does the fact she has been successful in a male dominated sport make her feel even more proud of her achievements?
“There are certainly more male coaches than female, and it is hard for women to get an opportunity.
“But what is more important to me is that we get more girls and women playing tennis.”
Whilst she struggles to choose a highlight of her long list of coaching achievements, the pinnacle of her playing career was undoubtedly achieved last month, when she won her first ever ITF (International Tennis Federation) Title, and in doing so secured a world ranking for the first time.
Victory in The Lew Hoad Memorial ITF Veterans Tournament gave her seniors over 55 singles ranking of 168, and it was certainly done the hard way.
The final lasted 3 hours and 40 minutes before Anne prevailed 7-6 3-6 6-1.
“I had the physio on because I was cramping in my right leg.”
Her amazing week didn’t end there. She went on to win the ladies doubles event with Jane Hampson and the mixed with David Rawlinson, achieving a world senior ranking in those events also, including a top 100 breakthrough in the mixed.
“I only entered the singles as practice for the doubles” she admits.
After her marathon duel in the singles competition, she was awarded with an appropriate prize for her triumph.
“At the end of the final, I was given an apple, an orange and an energy drink.
“I did feel really proud. It was something I’d never experience before. It was great to play in the sunshine for once, meeting new people and making some new friends.”
Tennis is going through a well-publicised golden generation. Global role models Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, alongside Andy Murray who has provided the greatest British success in generations, have ensured the sport has never been more popular. But what will the future hold?
“We always get a buzz during and around the Wimbledon fortnight. That will never change.
“If we keep going into schools and making kids aware of tennis at a young age, we will never have any problems.”
As the international game ponders life without Roger and Rafa, tennis in the North East may have its own problems in years to come. But for now, it is in safe hands.
For more information about Yarm Tennis Club, visit https://sites.google.com/site/yarmtennisclub/home-1
To find your local tennis club, visit http://www.lta.org.uk/play/
Author Nick Gullon can be found Tweeting @NickGullon