Cathy Fletcher: What playing tennis has given me, and how you can get started in the sport too

Posted on April 16, 2014



With the clocks having recently gone forward and the days getting longer, lighter and (I’ll say it quietly) brighter, summer is getting closer and more of us Brits will start to think about tennis as Wimbledon approaches.

But for me and an increasing number of deaf people around the country, tennis is a year-round passion. In my case it occupies a huge part of my life and has provided me with many wonderful friends – one of whom is now my husband and business partner – a thriving career and has taken me to the pinnacle of my sport – a Deaflympic gold medal.

Although heavily involved in sport from a younger age, I started tennis as an 11 or 12 years old, so I guess I was rather a late starter. However, through my position as National Deaf Tennis Coach, a role I took on early last year, I am working with the Tennis Foundation to encourage more young deaf people to start tennis at an early age (although tennis is a sport that can be enjoyed by anyone of any age and has multiple health and social benefits).

My parents spotted a newspaper article about tennis sessions in my local area and I went along to try it out and I haven’t looked back since! I later got involved in deaf tennis after a boy who played County tennis with me had gone to a taster session and his mother told my mum about it, and suggested I try it out. Otherwise, I am not sure I would have known about deaf tennis.

Before becoming National Deaf Tennis Coach last year I had been a GB international player since 1996 and have rather a long career in deaf tennis that has provided me with wonderful opportunities, the honour of playing for my country, meeting new players, travelling around the world and, most importantly, playing a game I love.

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My highlight has to be the mixed doubles gold medal at the 2009 Deaflympics in Taipei. It was a moment that will stay with me forever.

A gold medal at the highest level in any sport is the realisation of a lifetime ambition in any sportsperson’s career and it was certainly mine. To have achieved that was an unforgettable experience.

There have also been numerous other medals and accolades over the years, including helping GB to win the Maere Cup (the women’s World Team Championship for deaf tennis) in 2003, seven National women’s singles titles and many more National doubles titles.

Another that will also stick with me forever is winning the British Open in 2002 after being a set and 5-1 down and saving seven match points in the final.

Tennis has enabled me to succeed against hearing players as well as in deaf tennis competition. I am one of several deaf tennis players to have represented their county in the LTA’s County Cup, when I have my hearing aid in, but when playing in deaf tennis competition all players have to take their hearing aids out before going on court.

Obviously things like not hearing the net when it’s a let and not hearing the umpire on line calls has proved tricky at times. But I was always upfront with opponents and informed them at the start that they needed to be clear, if I was asking if it was in or out it was because I didn’t know/hear as opposed to querying for the sake of querying.

As I got older I went through the different levels of LTA coaching qualifications and embarked on a career as a tennis coach, which has included coaching hearing and deaf and hard of hearing players.

Because it has been a privilege to represent GB and because I know what deaf tennis has done for me in terms of my career, as a person and a player, I have burning passion to ensure deaf tennis gives other youngsters the opportunities that I have had.

The same applies to my husband Lewis and I guess you could say meeting Lewis is another amazing opportunity that deaf tennis has given me. We met around 1998, got together in 2005 and got married in 2011, so we have known each other a long time! We now have two businesses together and coach together. Earlier I mentioned Wimbledon – and Lewis had the chance to play in the first ever deaf tennis exhibition match at Wimbledon in 2004

There are lots of opportunities for deaf people to play tennis in Great Britain, one of which comes next month at the National Championships at Gosling Sports Park in Welwyn Garden City, when the Tennis Foundation is holding a taster session on Saturday, 3rd May for adults and children to try out tennis.

Coaching will be provided by a team of licensed LTA coaches trained to coach deaf players and then there is a fun tournament in the afternoon.

For more information please visit the Tennis Foundation website here and if you are interested in taking part please email Kirsty.Thomson@tennisfoundation.org.uk. We would love to hear from you and, as I hope my story has shown, you never know where your deaf tennis journey could take you!

 

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