AN exciting initiative aimed at introducing tennis into local schools is paying rich dividends, as more and more children take up the sport in Dundalk and the surrounding areas.
The programme was set up three years ago and initially attracted interest from a handful of schools, but now boasts over 25 primary schools.
Sessions provided by the coaches are approximately one hour in length, and are split into 20 minutes of physical exercise whilst the other 40 minutes deals with the fundamentals of the game.
To finish a lesson the coaches set a game for the students which forces them to work on the main aspects from the session. Teachers also take part in the programme, but more importantly lessons are provided for every class from junior infants to sixth!
As part of the lessons, students are given the opportunity to develop essential skills such as agility, balance, co-ordination and speed.
Over the past two years the programme has introduced friendly matches between the older classes in local schools, which brings a competitive aspect and allows the coaches to observe the progress made by different students from different schools.
One of the first schools to take on the programme was St. Fursey`s N.S. Haggardstown and Principal Marie Doonan is suitably impressed. 'The programme is fantastic for hand/eye co-ordination skills and the infants have really taken to the tennis,' she said, while a teacher in the school, Cora Jones added: 'All of the children benefited in terms of fitness and there has been a definite improvement in the children`s skill level.'
Close by in Blackrock, Principal Oreena Lawless of St. Francis NS says: 'The programme is very beneficial as it promotes three very important aspects of life, strength, self-discipline and self-esteem.'
Shane O`Malley, aged 7, first took part in the programme when he was in junior infants and two years later he is a regular in the local tennis club, training on Saturday afternoons which has led to the progression of his game.
Christopher Clarke (8) is another who has taken his game to a new level, and also trains on Saturday afternoons with the ambition to play competitive tennis in tournaments.
Jack Mulvill, Cora English, Chloe McGrath and Alex Ahazada have also shown a keen interest in the game and they are eager to improve their standard of play.
This would have never been made possible had the six students not been made aware of tennis in the schools coaching programme.
One of the first schools to implement the programme was Kilkerley NS Principal Madonna Lambert who enthused: 'The programme is excellent as everyone is given a chance to play. Tennis is a great way to get to know people as research has proven that those who play individual sports are more likely to keep it on for life.'
Due to the success of the programme, the coaches were given the go ahead by the parents association and Mrs. Lambert to paint lines on the yard thus making two new courts. As a result of this Kilkerley NS is a great location for friendly matches between rival schools and the students are able to learn more about the basics/mechanics of the game.
Students who have shown a keen interest in the game include: Adam Bellew, Connell Quinn, Morgan Quigley, Ewan McEntaggart and Sophie O`Hagan. Diarmuid McCoy who is the current principal of Bellurgan NS claims: 'The programme has been a great success in Bellurgan as everyone`s active throughout the whole lesson which adds to the enjoyment of it. The students look forward to the lessons every weeks and when the lessons are finished the students go back to class feeling in a very good mood.'
In recent times the programme has expanded taking on new schools such as Knockbridge NS, Lordship NS, Inniskeen NS, Darver NS and even a secondary school in St Joseph`s CBS Drogheda. Joe McDonnell, principal of Lordship NS, has noticed a major change in his school: 'Every morning during breaktime you can see a student hitting a tennis ball against the wall which shows the change in attitude and behaviour.'
During the past year the coaches have introduced a 'fruit day' in some of the schools. This mixes the element of fun with healthy eating as many different types of fruit are on offer to everyone, whilst parents are invited to observe the progress made by their children on the tennis court.
Parents are able to play tennis games with their children too, such as throwing the ball to their child who hits it back to them. As a result of the success of 'fruit day' the coaches hope to bring it to all of the schools where the programme is in operation. As of next February a schools league will take place in Dundalk LTC.
Cups will be provided for the two schools who reach the final and matches will be played on Saturdays. This will bring even more of a competitive edge to the programme.
For further information on this amazing initiative contact Mr. Gus Kresa on 083-3791200, 0429367117 or by email on firstname.lastname@example.org.