23 Jul New Facilities at National Tennis Centre Come on Stream
Posted at 00:00h in News
In April 2005, Tennis Ireland launched the National Tennis Centre at Albert College Park in the north Dublin suburb of Glasnevin. The Centre is essential to the professional development of Tennis in Ireland and has given young Irish hopefuls the opportunity to avail of world class coaching and training facilities without having to leave the country. All of the components required to bring talented players to a stage where they will be considered serious contenders internationally are available within the centre, including an indoor arena with four hard courts, access to excellent fitness facilities within Dublin City University and a highly skilled and dedicated team of coaches and technical experts. The most recent addition to the state of the art facilities is a new set of six outdoor courts, finished in May 2008, which allow the young players within the National Tennis Academy to train on clay – the surface on which they are most likely to compete. Gary Cahill, Technical Director at Tennis Ireland and one of the country’s premier coaches, explains how the new set of courts along with the existing facilities will enhance the training experience, and indeed prospects for success, for Irish players.
“The situation for Irish players training at home before we built the new courts is comparable to that of Irish swimmers in the past arriving at an overseas competition and swimming in a 50-metre pool for the first time. We had a real problem with the kids arriving at a tournament and having only two days to adapt to playing on clay when they had spent all their time training on artificial grass. Mentally, it puts the athlete at an immediate disadvantage. Artificial grass is the surface best suited to Ireland’s wet climate but the game played on clay is very different. It’s quicker, the players must move differently and it requires a lot more strength and stamina. The new courts are porous artificial clay so they drain well in wet weather and reduce the risk of slipping. Most international tournaments from the end of May onwards are on clay and now we can start coaching on our clay courts from April. The indoor hard courts are used to develop the player’s game and the clay surface allows them to prepare for competing. We simply didn’t have that option in the past and it will make a huge difference. It allows the players one less thing to worry about when they compete abroad.
In order for talented young players to reach their full potential, it’s crucial to have a good training environment in place. This involves much more than just having the best possible facilities – some of the greatest players in the world learned to play tennis on poor courts. Excellent mental, physical, technical and tactical training are necessary and have to commence when the player is very young. Since 2005, we have developed a good support system for the players. We have a psychologist who works with the players individually and in groups, and also works with the coaches to help them get the best from the players. We now have on site accommodation for the players from outside of Dublin, which removes the stress of travelling daily to and from the centre. Physical training is also taken very seriously. It’s not possible to start players on 24 hours of training a week in September – they’ll be destroyed by October. We commence the kids with two weeks of physical training at the start of the year and gradually increase the amount of coaching, but throughout the year we maintain a high level of physical training and injury prevention.
Around the world, tennis has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Good players used to train twice a week for an hour and a half at a time. Now we have the players in training for between 24 and 30 hours over six days of the week. Irish tennis has moved faster in recent years than other tennis playing nations because we have had further to come. We’re putting the pieces in place to produce world class tennis players while the other tennis playing nations are fine tuning the pieces that are already there. In the next couple of years we should start to see the results of the developments that have taken place. There are already a few young players coming up who should be ready for the junior grand slams within two years. Tennis players have to start very, very young to be really good. We have to find them early and keep them in the programme for a long time. With the new centre and facilities, it’s now possible to do that.”