Time to shine

From croquet in Yorkshire to a Hampshire tennis prodigy, Simon Fry rounds up the latest trends across summer-term sports

Whether it’s the thwack of leather on willow resounding around village greens or the tennis-mad masses assembling on Murray Mound, sport pervades the British summer.

For pupils, the warmer temperature should appeal to any put off by winter’s chill, with a range of sports offering something for everyone – from lunchtime stress relief to the chance of national representation.

Parental encouragement often plays a crucial part in children’s early interest in sport. Hannah Smith, a pupil at Hampshire’s Daneshill Prep School was first taken to the Wimbledon championships by her mother at the age of three. And, clearly, the tennis bug bit. Hannah played her first competitive match at the age of six, in Maidenhead in April 2010 – since when she has competed in around 180 tournaments in the UK, Germany, Turkey and France, winning 75 of these.

Hannah plays twice a week on her school’s courts and also visits Winchester Racquet and Fitness Club, playing some 16 hours a week in total. She enjoys competing and challenging herself to improve – and all this hard work has paid off, with her recent crowning as UK under-10 champion in both the singles and doubles disciplines.

To become champion I had to qualify for the tournament itself first, by winning over 80% of the matches in the national tournaments throughout the whole season,” Hannah explains. “The top 16 girls were then selected to compete in the national tour final, where I won four singles and three doubles matches in the tour final to become UK champion.”

Hannah has already graced world tennis’s most prestigious stage (playing an exhibition match at Wimbledon), but she continues to aim high. “My dream is to play on grass at Wimbledon in the main draw and to become a professional – and to enjoy myself the whole way.”

Tennis is also on the curriculum at Somerset’s Millfield School, which has recently installed Huck Nets’ tennis dividers in its indoor Tennis Centre. The school wanted to be able to divide the Centre in order to make more use of the space – and to be able to stage more than one activity at any one time, such as tennis and fencing for example. The dividers are totally retractable and were purpose-made following an onsite survey by the installation technicians. All the nets supplied are made of high-tenacity polypropylene and have a flame-retardant finish.

Elsewhere, Hampshire’s Winchester College has bought two mobile cricket cages and nets from Huck. The Ultimate cricket cage and net is made of heavyweight box-section steel and is fully galvanised. It has six heavy-duty PVC wheels, and features high-tenacity polypropylene knotless netting. The Tunnel cricket cage and net, meanwhile, has a fully galvanised steel frame and a gated back net for wicket-keeping practice.

Up at Loretto School just outside Edinburgh, girls aged between eight and twelve are looking forward to the school’s third annual under-12 Kwik cricket tournament on June 6. Previous competitions have attracted teams from Cargilfield, Fettes, Dollar Academy, Carlton CC and East Lothian schools: this year Loretto hopes to add Hawick CC, Stewart-Melville and Perth-Kinross CC, with eight teams and almost 80 girls playing. Cricket has not traditionally been available to girls at the junior school, but Kwik cricket – a high-speed version of the game, aimed at children and featuring a plastic bat and ball and a flexible number of participants – has been an ideal way to introduce the sport. Two Loretto pupils, Mairi Conway and Izzy Lamotte, have now progressed to the current U17 Scotland squad, while several play club cricket locally and are members of the East Lothian squad. 

The girls get much out of their playing. Holly Stuart, 12, notes: “Cricket has taught me skills like coordination, balancing, throwing and quick movements, which I can transfer to other sports like rounders, tennis and golf.” 

Golf is also popular at Loretto, where outdoor facilities comprise a nine-hole synthetic putting green, eight driving nets and a practice bunker. Loretto also has an indoor teaching studio with video analysis and TrackMan simulator, while the purpose-built Loretto Golf Academy Indoor Centre, opening for the start of the 2015-2016 academic year, will include a short game area, driving range, teaching studio with video analysis and TrackMan and a putting studio with video analysis and SAM PuttLab.

In addition, pupils benefit from links to the nearby Musselburgh Old Course and Craigielaw and Archerfield Golf Club. Director of golf Rick Valentine explains how the school’s Golf Academy operates: “All pupils in the junior school and the bottom two year groups of the senior school are introduced to golf by our coaches through the PE programme for six weeks each year. They then have the option of our junior golf pathway which delivers coaching to 150 pupils each week from the ages of 5-18, from beginners to international golfers.”

Golf is also popular at Grimsby’s St James’ School, which last autumn became the country’s first to open an academy for ages 2-18. Headmaster Dr John Price, a keen sportsman whose previous positions have included director of boarding at Millfield, brought about a partnership with Grimsby’s Laceby Manor Golf Club. 

Dr Price was keen to offer pupils a broadened range of extra-curricular activities, and golf was high on his list. “Golf is a game that epitomises sportsmanship and traditional values,” he explains. “It is a great game, a global game and a sport both sexes can play. Laceby Manor’s excellent facilities should help to develop some really talented players with a lifelong love of the game.” Pupils are able to use an 18-hole parkland golf course, extended clubhouse and eight-bay covered driving range. 

However, enjoyment of summer exertion does not necessarily require extensive equipment and infrastructure, as is proven at Sheffield High School. “Sheffield High has always played rounders, as both a curriculum activity and as an extra-curricular sport for pupils of all levels,” explains Director of Sport Liz Jones. “It also features in our house competitions – and many a staff versus pupil charity match. We feel it has a myriad of benefits, including the development of basic motor skills – catching, throwing and running – required in all sports. Emotionally and socially, the game appeals to both those with outstanding sporting ability and others less able in or keen on traditional team games like hockey and netball. It is also a very tactical and strategic game which requires brain as well as body engagement.” 

The sport is universally popular at Sheffield, whose pupils have earned international recognition. “I don’t think there is a single pupil in our school who doesn’t enjoy rounders. We play in the Sheffield Schools League and also take part in the national schools’ rounders competitions. Over the years we have had numerous pupils go on to play rounders for England. We have also, in conjunction with the national governing body, enabled pupils to become qualified young officials and coaches.”

Similarly low-key equipment is bringing great summer sport engagement at Kirkham Grammar School where, in 2005, sixth formers restored interest in croquet, first played onsite in 1588. The school’s Croquet Society was reformed, with matches played on the Headmaster’s Lawn in a spirited and competitive atmosphere. 

Teacher Mark Melling said: “I’d played it at a friend’s house and thought I’d give it a go at school, getting hold of a second-hand set from a colleague’s aged parents for £20 after the school’s Societies Committee coughed up the cash and I persuaded the Head to let us play on his lawn! In the run-up to the summer exams, players found it a great stress reliever at an anxious time. When the exams were over, the games were less tense but equally exciting.” 

Mr Melling predicts that around a dozen players will resume playing come the warmer weather. “The society hibernates until the spring, but I think croquet is here to stay at Kirkham Grammar for as long as the sun shines and the grass is green. The level of ability ranges from the absolute ‘hit-and-hope’ beginner to the experienced, malevolent expert. Whatever your ability, it really is just for fun when the sun shines. 

“I guess it is ‘uncool’, but the small numbers who play really do enjoy it. They are amused by the ‘posh’ Pimm’s-and-cucumber-sandwich image it carries. I haven’t yet been brave enough to bring any of that sort of thing along! For other schools – if they have the space and can get hold of a set – M&S do small garden ones – I say go for it!”

Contacts 

Daneshill Prep www.daneshillprep.com
Huck Nets www.huck-net.co.uk
Loretto School www.lorettoschool.co.uk
Saint James’ School www.saintjamesschool.co.uk
Sheffield High www.sheffieldhighschool.org.uk
Kirkham Grammar www.kirkhamgrammar.co.uk

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