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new ball game Meet the Irishman leading a coaching revolution at the heart of British tennis

Irish tennis coaching talent can draw inspiration from Van de Braam's success in the sport.

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Merlin Van de Braam is head of coach development and support at the LTA

Merlin Van de Braam is head of coach development and support at the LTA

Merlin Van de Braam is head of coach development and support at the LTA

It is the most British of sporting past times, yet an Irishman has risen to the top of the tree at the Lawn Tennis Association in London.

Merlin Van de Braam might not have a name that suggests his roots lie in Westmeath and Waterford, but he is very much an Irishman having spent his childhood in this country and setting his sights on becoming this country’s first tennis star.

When that distant dream faded, coaching became Merlin’s passion and as he told sundayworld.com, his rise to the role of Head of Coach Development & Support at the LTA has exceeded his own expectations.

“I started out wanting to be a pro tennis player, but that proved to be challenging in Ireland,” begins Merlin.

“I didn’t have a good coach near where I first started in a small club in Carrick on Suir. There was no programme and I didn't have anyone to play with.

"It wasn’t until much later in my teenage years that I took up coaching and I had to travel far from home to get it. I was lucky enough to work with an expert coach William Guiry, at St Annes club in Waterford, who was fantastic in helping me to develop my game and inspire me to move into coaching.

“I feel I could have been a good tennis player, but the support I needed wasn’t there when starting out and that’s why I’m so passionate about the work I do now as a coach.

“I don’t want anyone who loves tennis to be without a brilliant coach that can help them on their way and this is why I’m so eager to drive a push to ensure everyone who wants to play the sport gets a chance to do so.

“There are so many blockers in sport that stop potential professionals realising their potential and I don’t want coaching to ever be an issue again.”

Funding for tennis in Ireland has long been an issue for our aspiring talent, but British tennis benefits from the huge cash windfall generated by the Wimbledon Championships each summer.

That has helped the LTA to provide a pathway that helped British teenager Emma Raducanu secure a remarkable win at the US Open in September, with Merlin hoping that historic success can inspire a new wave of interest in the sport, especially from female coaching talent.

“The Emma Raducanu story is so inspiring and we have seen a surge in interest in the sport on the back of that,” he adds.

“We have also used this opportunity to reach out to parents who want to teach their kids how to play the game and maybe follow in Emma’s footsteps.

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“It might also encourage more females to consider a career in tennis coaching, as we are keen to have get more female coaches into our game.

“We are running and funding a free taster course in the UK for females to have a look at tennis coaching to see if it is for them and it is an area we are keen to promote. We are also looking to fund coaching courses that would be predominantly female students because it is important that we get more female coaching talent coming into our game.

“In addition, we introduced a flexible maternity (and paternity) policy within our professional membership scheme to ensure parent’s taking time away for their career to raise a family are less affected, alongside dedicated grant funding directed at attracting more females into coaching qualifications.

“Tennis coaching is a great career, with lots of flexibility and autonomy built into it that you may struggle to find with employed office-based roles for example and it would be great to see more people in Ireland the UK taking it up and expanding the sport.

Irish tennis coaching talent can draw inspiration from Merlin’s success in the sport, with this new year giving us all inspiration to consider taking up a new sport and getting back in shape after the Christmas excesses.

If you are interested in trying your luck at tennis, you can find a coach HERE

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