Equipping for Life (EfL) has introduced tennis lessons into a primary school in the Shankill area of Belfast as a means of helping equip young people for a better future.
The Belfast-based charity enables people of faith to volunteer time in communities that have been impacted by deprivation.
Dr Darrin Barr, Area Support Officer with EfL, said: “With the recent amazing success of 18-year-old Emma Raducanu in the US Open, tennis is a hot topic in the media and Emma provides a wonderful role model for young children. Her success is an example of hard work, dedication and determination. Participating in all sport requires self-discipline but it is also fun and boosts mental well-being.”
In June 2021, EfL started a pilot tennis coaching programme in Forth River Primary School. Along with volunteer helpers, professional tennis coach Will Boyd held one-hour tennis sessions during the school day with a variety of Key Stage Two classes.
The children were introduced to basic tennis coaching and participated with enthusiasm, good humour and much laughter. The session started with a prayer of blessing (see below) for the children and ended with big smiles and a yearning for more tennis!
Will started playing tennis at Downshire Tennis Club, Hillsborough, when he was seven-years-old. He regularly still competes in the Belfast leagues and Ulster tournament circuit, and is a Tennis Ireland Level Two coach and currently the Head Coach of Cavehill Tennis club.
The EfL pilot tennis programme was so successful, it has been extended into the new academic year with the current P7 class participating in the next round of tennis coaching.
Darrin said: “We are very grateful for the support of Judith Stevenson, Acting Principal of Forth River Primary School, for allowing Equipping for Life to launch this programme in the school.
Commenting on the programme, Mrs Stevenson said: “We are delighted with how well the tennis is going in school and the pupils are thoroughly enjoying every moment of it.”
Bob Cooke is a tennis volunteer with EfL, assisting the coach for an hour every Wednesday morning. “What a breath of fresh air for the P7 pupils and, I may say, the EfL volunteers,” Bob said. “All enjoy the craic. It starts with a prayer, light touch, and it is humbling to see how sincerely the pupils reverently take part in this short devotional experience.”
It is hoped that this initiative can be replicated in other schools on the Shankill and beyond.
A Blessing Prayer for Children
I bless you in the name of Jesus that He will help you to learn,
to play well and to make good friends, so that you will be happy at school every day.
I bless you that you will be fit and healthy,
that your body will grow strong,
Knowing Jesus loves you and protects you.
May the good Lord bless you and keep you.