Just six months ago, five boys from Exmouth Community College beat off the cream of Britain’s top tennis schools to be crowned national tennis champions.
Ben Johnson, Chris Denton, Lucas Urquiza, Alfie Woodger and Sam Sidgwick joined a small band of state schools to have triumphed on the LTA’s national schools’ stage.
After defeating top seeds Culford School, Edinburgh’s Merchiston Castle School and Trent College, head coach Liam Storey, who has worked with the youngsters for nine years, said: “The boys worked hard and were a great team all weekend. They showed immense support for each other and behaved professionally both on and off the court.”
A decade in the making, the school not only boasts the national U13 boys’ champions but regional girls’ U13 finalists, twelve county players, three national tour players and one ITF junior player.
Here head of sport Stuart Lowe reveals the secrets behind Exmouth’s remarkable rise to prominence.
How did tennis become such an important part of your sporting curriculum?
Incredible sport and rackets have always been strong areas for the college. We have great links with the LED Exmouth Tennis Centre tennis centre and good relationships with the coaches and staff. Tennis is also seen as a sport that helps develop other sports such as badminton, cross country, hockey, football, rounders
What facilities do you have?
We have six indoor courts plus three outdoor courts that we get to use at the LED that belong to East Devon District. We have five older school-based courts but these are only used in the summer for PE lessons.
What specific programmes have contributed to your success?
The ECC Academy programme gives players ten hours a week on court, three hours of strength and conditioning and a full competition programme with coach support.
How important are your school/club links?
Generally this is one of the most important things to myself as head of department. We have great links with many local clubs. In terms of the tennis this has been hugely important because it allows the students to train indoors in winter with the use we get from the tennis courts. We also run a primary school programme that has its natural progression to when they come to Exmouth.
How much difference does a good teacher coach make to a school team?
It is hugely important to have great PE staff that know the game and can give all round support. The relationship teachers develop with students is incredibly important and to have specific tennis coaches who can technically teach the children and deliver a detailed, high energy programme.
Are there any other secrets of your success?
As a group of teachers, we are incredibly passionate about given opportunities to all students. The programme for tennis has been highly successful and will hopefully continue to develop if we can find more funding. The coaches we have available from LED tennis live, breath and sleep the sport. They are incredibly passionate, driven and committed.
How important is competitive tennis to you?
Huge. It is all about competition and getting results and raising the profile of schools’ tennis and showing the secondary community colleges can provide students with the opportunities to do well.
Tell us about one match that stands out in your memory?
Probably the deciding match at the nationals in Bolton. After being down an early break, the boys came back and fought to win the match 6-3 to win the title 4-2
How can other schools achieve the same sort of results?
You must have a school that will back you. This has not been easy to set up particularly when funding is limited. A strong relationship with a local tennis provider like we have with LED is essential. Get good coaches. Then you need to have access to an indoor facility and set up a ten hour a week programme/academy.
What could be done to improve tennis in schools?
Introduce development programmes and provide more support and funding to enable more students to play tennis. This can lead to them entering individual and team competitions.
The secrets of our tennis success