6 months of breaking barriers TO and THROUGH tennis


We are six months into our BBTA journey and now in Phase Two of our pilot schemes, and wow its been a rollercoaster. After years of researching and thinking – how can we make a difference in our community through a sport we love?

We eventually decided to take the plunge and started the BBTA programme. We were kids and now our kids are part of the community that we are trying to break barriers to and through tennis for so we are probably best placed to start this.

The awesome Leeds Community Foundation recognised an initiative led by people from the community it serves and gave us a chance to start. The LTA Tennis Foundation and Sport England have also supported us into the Phase Two of our pilot scheme to whom we are hugely grateful for.

In Leeds we have the unique, and unfortunate, situation where our partner tennis centres are within 1 mile of IMD 1-4 areas. They are close to and relatively (physically) accessible from some of the most deprived areas in Leeds and nationally but yet there are still barriers for underrepresented communities.

Barriers such as perception, weather and cost are still making it inaccessible. Our pilot programme is based on relatable faces bringing hard to reach children from underrepresented backgrounds into traditional tennis venues so that our children get as close to other children’s experience of the sport, as those who have the means to do so for FREE. Out of the cohort of 89 children, over 40% are from state benefits only households. It’s great to have them and low income families experience good coaching, access to equipment and all weather facilities throughout the year for consistent play. A wet winter reinforcing what conversations with parents in our feasibility studies told us.

I don’t drive, is there somewhere warm and dry for me to wait if I bring my kids to this tennis thing?

This approach has been very successful – so far. It’s also had its challenges – It’s uncomfortable for some. Uncomfortable for parents and children from our community and probably for parents and children from ‘traditional’ tennis too.

Is this necessary to truly open tennis up and diversify the sport? We think so.

Is this approach scalable? Does it work in the long run? Could it go beyond participation into talent and coaching pathways? We think so, but honestly, we don’t know yet, but we hope to learn from this scheme.

Although we are participation first, early indications are encouraging with 15% of the cohort being asked to join invitational groups within 6 months. We’ll only really understand through data and learnings from our pilot schemes over the next couple of years, hopefully, what really works. We still have a lot of work to do in understanding, changing of perceptions and gaining more trust from parts of underrepresented communities. Thats going to take some time.

Early on in the programme one child asked:

Can I be moved to a group with a girl coach please?

We’ve heard this more from girls as we’ve expanded the scheme. A stark reminder of the challenge that having people that look like them as coaches and wider tennis is important for kids. A challenge that we know of but hits so much harder when 8 year olds are telling you rather than a sports research paper. Our cohort is 58% female. In conversations two sisters said “We like tennis cause we don’t have to bump into people” something we’ve heard a few times, highlighting the non contact appeal of the sport to some girls. We capture this data as part of our pilot which we feel is gold dust in better understanding the barriers to physical activity through tennis in these communities – our community.

We are learning a lot and our biggest challenges or opportunities are – how do we shape up for the future to retain, onboard and serve the big waiting list we now have. A good problem to have in some ways.

We are truly thankful that parents and children from our community have trusted us enough to put them into very new, and frankly, uncomfortable situations. Our partners who are on the frontlines of delivering great tennis experiences for our children – we thank you too. Our advocates in local schools, Churches, Mosques, School Games Officers, and everyone else who’s spread the word. Even the local football clubs, who’ve begrudgingly signposted potential players to BBTA – Thanks!

We recently had a great session hosted by one of our delivery partners Chapel Allerton Tennis Club where we got some of the children on our scheme from across 4 sites to join us for a half term session, a time where most children from underrepresented backgrounds need things to do. Not all could travel to this session but hopefully we’ll take this to other sites in the future. It gave us the chance to film the below video which rounds up what we are doing at BBTA.