10 Questions with the CEO of Tennis Wales, Peter Drew
I first met Peter Drew when he worked for Tennis West back in 2003/4. Peter was facilitating my Club Professional Coaching Course and was a well-liked and respected sports administrator. He soon after took a role at the Lawn Tennis Association in Cambridgeshire and was instrumental in finding me a coaching position at Next Generation Club in Cambridge in 2005. During that year I caught up with Peter a lot where we played golf and toured several pubs in Cambridge sampling some famous local beers. Between the local ales and our bad jokes, we discussed trends in the tennis industry now and into the future. This included the success of the Mini Tennis Program in England and how this was sure to transfer to Australian Tennis. As predicted, the Hot Shots tennis program made its way into the Australian Tennis system over the next 2 years. Peter is a intelligent and driven guy with a passion for tennis and rugby. I was not at all surprised to see him rise up to become CEO of Tennis Wales.
Rick – Peter, thanks for contributing to the Art of Tennis Blog
What has been your most successful moment or project as CEO at Tennis Wales?
Peter – I think without doubt my favourite outcome or success with Tennis Wales has been our primary schools programme. It’s so important to give primary school children a really positive, fun taster of tennis. Our Tennis Wales team have done an absolutely fantastic job on this over the last 5 years where we train the teachers, give them a DVD with step by step images of how to run a fun and easy tennis session with their class, and we give them a free Mini Tennis equipment pack with the modified equipment making it so easy to play. When delivered in the right way like this the kids absolutely love doing tennis. This has now shown in the Sport Wales School Sport Survey they do across Wales every two years. Tennis in schools in Wales has shifted from being well down the participation league table to now sitting second behind only Football (if we remove the basic physical activities of jogging and cycling from the list). This has translated into an increase in our introductory primary school team tennis event from 2,000 players 5 years ago to now more than 5,000 players in this year’s event. Primary school children absolutely love tennis if presented in the right way. It’s the most important thing we can do to grow our game.
Rick – What would you consider are the three most important roles of a tennis governing body?
Peter – Firstly I would say the governing body has a responsibility to coordinate certain core elements of the sport. There needs to be a competition structure, training of and qualifications for coaches etc. Secondly, the governing body needs to take a leading role in promoting the sport of tennis to the general public. The clubs, centres, and other community tennis venues are obviously important places where people will go to play their tennis, but the governing body can play an important role in promoting the sport so that more people end up going to those tennis venues. Thirdly I would say governing bodies have a very important role with supporting the tennis workforce. There is a huge workforce required to make tennis successful, including club volunteers, competition organisers, referees, coaches, teachers etc. The governing body can play a vital role in supporting and strengthening the quantity and quality of that overall workforce. One thing I have made a very strong point of in my position with Tennis Wales is that it is that overall tennis workforce who really are the ones running tennis in Wales, not Tennis Wales. Our role is just to support that workforce as best we can, which means we need to listen and support rather than dictate and tell. Very important.
Rick – How do you see success measured in tennis? Participation numbers or professional success?
Peter – This is a tricky one with no right or wrong answer. Professional success is the shop window of the sport to the public. So it’s very important to have successful role models for promoting the sport and for national pride and national identity. But I think participation is also really the lifeblood of the sport, and the more people playing tennis then the more chance of world class talent popping up somewhere to become that shop window. So we measure both and both are very important, but I would say grass roots participation is our most important mission.
Rick – What has stopped Wales from having more professional tennis players and are there any up and coming Welsh players on the rise?
Peter – This is the question we get asked every year at Wimbledon time. Wales currently doesn’t have any players in the top 300 in the world, which we are working hard to change. Over the last 3 or 4 years we have seen a big increase in the number of juniors from Wales with ITF world rankings. This is an important measure for us to track whether our performance support processes are heading in the right direction. Whether any of those juniors will kick on to be successful at the professional level we will have to wait to see. In 2015 Wales won the Home Nations Championships (junior international team event) for the first time in 9 years and that was a proud moment for Tennis Wales and the players.
Rick – As CEO of Tennis Wales, what do you most wish coaches and/or clubs did more of?
Peter – Whether they like it or not, tennis coaches and clubs are part of a professional business industry. Today’s society is extremely competitive for getting people’s time and money. So coaches and clubs must do their best to take a professional business approach to this if they are going to be successful. This is why it is so important for governing bodies to support the workforce like this. They need to understand their marketplace, they need to understand their local community around them and what they want, and they need to effectively promote and deliver the right ‘products’ to their ‘customers’.
Rick – What has been the best tennis program that you have seen and why?
Peter – Mini Tennis revolutionised tennis for young children in Britain. It made it so much easier and fun for them to play from their very first tennis experience. Mini Tennis has now been picked up by other countries around the world and is the standard programme for young children now. But what is also a very exciting opportunity is Mini Tennis for adults. We call this ‘Touch Tennis’, but it has other names as well. It is a fantastic alternative tennis format for adults. A great way to introduce beginner adults to tennis, because for beginner adults, full court tennis is extremely difficult and most won’t stick with it. It’s all about having the right product for the customer. There are even ITF World Rankings now for ‘Touch Tennis’. It is for tennis what T20 is for cricket.
Rick – Do you think volunteer run clubs are sustainable or can you see a more private management model for our clubs?
Peter – I really hope that the volunteer run community tennis club can still remain as a major part of the tennis landscape. But there is no doubt it is getting harder these days with more competition for people’s time and money, and less people willing to volunteer their time for community clubs. Clubs need to be smart and innovative with how they recruit and retain volunteers. There needs to be less emphasis on formal committees which put people off volunteering. Have specific working groups or project groups. On the annual club membership form, ask each member what professional expertise they have. Then ask that person if they would like to use that area of expertise for a specific project to help the club eg. find a member with a marketing background to write a marketing and promotions plan for the club, or find someone with an IT background to design and set up the club website. Most people will be happy to help when it is approached this way. But if you ask your members to come forward to sit on the club committee for a three year period, then this is an increasingly challenging way to get volunteers involved. Also reward and recognise your volunteers.
Rick – What is the key to growing tennis in lower socio economic areas? Is tennis elitist?
Peter – This is one of our biggest current objectives in Wales. There are unfortunately many financially deprived areas in Wales where any costs at all can make it very prohibitive, so it requires an innovative approach and an understanding of the local community. Business as usual and a traditional approach will simply not get the job done. Because tennis coaches are usually paid professionals then this makes it difficult. Also, if you have someone coming in from outside of the community like a visiting tennis coach, the local kids will generally not respond well to this. What we are working on is educating local existing ‘community leaders’ who the youngsters in the community already have a link with and trust. For example the local football coach, or one of the community leaders at the Youth Club. We can train these people on how to deliver basic tennis activities and we can provide free equipment for them to use. We do this through our ‘Community Activators Course’. Because tennis in these communities in Wales is not a sport that the children would even consider playing normally, we have to be innovative in how we get them to give it a go. Things like taking a holiday sports camp where 4 sports are already being delivered, and just add tennis to the menu. Just sneak it in. Usually they’ll love it. Or training up some teenagers at High School or in the Girl Guides so that they can deliver some fun tennis activities to others in the group as part of the regular sorts of activities they are doing. We do this through our ‘Young Tennis Leaders’ course which the teenagers love doing and is very useful for their own personal/professional development.
I think in the past tennis has definitely had an elitist tag to it. But it certainly doesn’t have to be like that and I think that perception and the way tennis is now being made much more accessible across the community is rapidly shifting the dial on that. Tennis is a sport that should be accessible to anyone and everyone in the community.
Rick – Do you believe juniors who receive funding from their governing body should be required to pay back the investment made in them if and when they earn prize money?
Peter – Yes I absolutely agree 100% with this approach. Players receiving funding is a privilege, not a right. Both Australia and Britain are lucky in that they host one of the 4 Grand Slam events, which means they have more money with which to invest back into developing the sport and supporting their players. But there is only so much money that can be put into funding for players and only a few players can be lucky enough to receive funding. So if an up and coming player is lucky enough to receive funding and then becomes successful then I believe that once that player reaches a certain threshold of prize money they should repay some or all of that funding. Then it can be recycled so that more young players can have that same opportunity of support to try to become a successful professional.
Rick – Last year you were elected to be a part of the Sport Wales Advisory Group with 12 others from diverse backgrounds. Has this advisory board opened your mind to any new ways of thinking that you can bring back to tennis?
Peter – I was elected onto the Sport Wales Advisory Group to represent the ‘National Governing Bodies’ of the various sports in Wales. Other members of the advisory group are from a variety of professional backgrounds to provide a diverse range of industry advice and input to Sport Wales. This has been a fantastic learning experience to listen to and work with such a diversity of experts with different thoughts and opinions on things. The work strand that I am working on is looking at how the sport sector can link together better with the health sector in terms of physical activity and well-being. As in Australia, the health and well-being of the general public is a major issue in Britain with child obesity, diabetes, mental illness etc. So looking at how sport can best position itself to play a positive role with those issues has been extremely interesting and thought provoking. I have a university background which helps with this. The reason I initially moved to Australia from New Zealand was to do a Masters Degree in Health & Physical Education. So I have really enjoyed bringing together that educational background and passion with my working experience of heading up a National Sporting Organisation.