The Kilmore Tennis Club is a club of rich history but perhaps its most indelible mark in its 137-years of existence has been left within the last 12 months.
Kilmore, located North of Melbourne in Victoria, grappled with Covid-19 restrictions during the height of the pandemic.
Like most tennis clubs, Kilmore was significantly impacted by lockdown restrictions and struggled to maintain its engagement with local youth.
However, through the tireless work of Jacinta Gallagher and support from Tennis Victoria, this all changed.
With the implementation of the clubs Tennis4Tenns program, it was able to increase its youth engagement while also taking a pragmatic approach to actively involve youth within the club.
Gallagher, who is a secondary school teacher took on the role as coordinator of the program, but she also saw firsthand the impact of Covid-19 restrictions within the Kilmore area.
“Covid was really severe and particularly for kids home-schooling, they didn’t have that interaction they would normally have”, she said.
“Domestic violence in our area escalated to the point where it was 40 per cent higher than anywhere else in Victoria, so covid had a huge impact on teenagers in our area.”
For Gallagher and the Kilmore Tennis Club, the main priority was ensuring that kids returned to tennis in a way that wasn’t demanding or daunting.
“It was really for us to have an environment where kids could come back to tennis or start tennis”, she said.
“A lot of the kids coming out of Covid weren’t as fit as what they were going into Covid, and they didn’t have the self-confidence to just come back and play competition tennis.”
The program focused primarily on ensuring that kids and teenagers involved could interact again but also build up confidence to come back after the pandemic and play tennis.
This element of the program proved to be successful with the club experiencing a rise in youth retention.
“We had five teams return at our club,” she said.
“It really showed that by getting them back on board just socially it had a huge effect on the number of kids we had returning to tennis.”
The Tennis4Teens program at the Kilmore Tennis Club was also responsible for forming the clubs junior committee, which aimed to equip all those involved with enhanced social and leadership skills.
The junior committee has meant its youth can become more hands on in the club’s operations, encourage new ideas, and allow the junior committee to run their own programs overseen by the senior committee.
“Now that we have a junior committee, we are giving them the skillsets on how to run a meeting,” said Gallagher.
“They’re running a meeting to how you would formally run a meeting and they’re engaged and coming up with great ideas,” she said.
The success of the program has inspired other tennis clubs in the area to implement similar programs to ensure they can retain and attract additional junior players.
“Other clubs have looked at what we’ve done, and they actually want to do the program as well,” Gallagher said.
Kilmore Tennis Club president Gavin Moreira has also seen the direct benefits of the program at the club and has seen the growth of junior players.
“It was a great initiative for the club to be able to get teenagers back on the court,” he said.
“The idea is to obviously try and attract more kids to play tennis and take it up so it’s been a great initiative which began at the start of covid and its just kept going and going.”
Moreira also has an eye on the future, with plans to ensure the junior players forming part of the junior committee will make the transition to roles within the senior committee.
“That’s how the club as a whole is looking at it, that one day they’ll be able to jump on the senior committee and take the club forward,” he said.
For the Kilmore Tennis Club, it was also a great surprise to be recognised as Tennis Victoria’s affiliate of the month with Moreira hoping the recognition will not only elevate the club, but tennis in general.
“Hopefully it will promote the game of tennis across the board both regionally and across metropolitan areas as well,” he said.
The Kilmore Tennis Club has been a leader in nurturing junior tennis in regional areas and the work of its volunteers and junior players is a great testament to their strength and passion for the game.