The path to the elite levels of tennis can often be a difficult one to navigate, particularly for those in regional areas. The Barwon Sports Academy is doing its bit to make that pathway clearer.
The Barwon Sports Academy will hold trials for next year's tennis program on November 14, head coach Matthew Hicks anticipating 40-50 talented youngsters to strut their stuff with 12-16 expected to be selected.
Geelong's Hicks, who knows exactly what it's like to be a young tennis hopeful in a regional city, worked his way through the grades to hold an ATP ranking inside the top 1500 almost 15 years ago. He is now putting his tennis passions into the next generation.
A long-time coach, Hicks has been involved in the program for about a decade but it will the first time he is the head coach for the Barwon region and he is looking forward to seeing the next crop of youngsters, aged between 12-18, enter the academy.
"I'd love to see these regional kids take the next step in their tennis. Obviously geographically and financially it is a lot harder, but it's definitely well rewarded," Hicks told The First Serve.
"Being born and bred in Geelong, none of this was around when I was growing up, so I definitely enjoy it, it's a passion of mine.
"It gives the opportunity for the best regional kids in the state to train with each other."
Hicks said a major part of the academy was not just about advancing players' skills, but educating them on the off-court elements that can make a huge difference in maximising their potential.
"Being an academy, it's not just the on-court component, it's off too. The strength and conditioning program, they'll get a chance to use the gym.
"A lot of these kids wouldn't know much about the nutrition side of things, the psychology of the sport, how to look after yourself.
"There's a focus on all those things if they have that dream of being an elite tennis player. It's not just skills, it's the stuff you're doing off the court that is just as important as what you're doing on it. It can be a real learning curve for regional players.
"Their attitude is super important as well... if you've got a kid who's a fairly good player but their attitude is horrible or they have a few anger issues, they won't be involved in the program. You've got to be a role model, you've got to make sure you behave on and off the court."
The pride Hicks has for regional tennis runs strong. He still reflects fondly on what he says is his proudest achievement, winning the Victorian Grasscourts Championships in his hometown.
"To win the Platinum (rated tournament), 10 years ago now, on the grass courts in front of family and friends would be my number one achievement."
While BSA has a high focus on athletes improving their in-game performance, it also places a high value on the wellbeing of its athletes by providing not only technical coaching, but also support to develop well-rounded people and athletes.
The trial will be held at Geelong Lawn Tennis Club. Players can register their interest at the Barwon Sports Academy website.
Listen to The First Serve with Brett Phillips each Monday at 8pm AEDT on 1116AM SEN Melbourne, 1629AM SEN SA / 1170am Sydney or listen live and catch up on the SEN App.
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