David McCarthy, president of the venerable St Michael’s Lawn Tennis Club in Blackrock, told Keith Watterson how a ‘back to basics’ refocus on the pure pleasure of participation has helped tennis in Cork through its most challenging period.
With summer here, and Wimbledon on the horizon, tennis is back on the radar, but the high profile of major tournaments belies the tough time many local clubs have had coping with the rigours of recession.
Clubs in Cork and throughout Ireland have struggled to maintain memberships due to financial pressures and time commitments, and to bring back to the game those who have bowed out of the sport over the past decade.
But David McCarthy, president of St Michael’s Lawn Tennis Club in Blackrock, envisages a bright future for tennis in Cork, due to a “back to basics focus on participation, fun and positively engaging the communities where clubs are based”.
“To use a well worn phrase, we’re seeing the green shoots of recovery, at all levels, from juniors right up to veterans,” Mr McCarthy says, attributing the steady growth in members to the emphasis on creating an “atmosphere of enjoyment”.
An open door approach has been crucial. “Club membership costs are relatively low these days. We tell anyone who’s interested to come along and try it out. All you need is a t-shirt, shorts and a pair of runners. If you don’t want to invest in a racquet upfront, they’re available at the club to borrow. If you enjoy it, great; think about joining the club. And if you don’t, you will not be put under any pressure.”
“We see our role as creating interest in tennis, making it attractive, whatever a person’s age or level of ability. After that, it’s up to those who have opted to try it out. Rather than pressurising people into membership, it’s much more effective, and rewarding, to watch someone, perhaps in their 30s or older, who has never played before, being bitten by the bug,” he says.
Mr McCarthy admits that over the past few years, particularly during the cockier years of Ireland’s illusory economic boom, people were getting into tennis to compete, and voluntary committees at the smaller clubs almost inevitably lost sight of the fundamentals of this unique sport.