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Offering sport for life is guiding principle of a tennis missionary

THE headlines all shout about the hunt for the next Andy Murray.

Julie Gordon, Scott Drennan and coach Adam Lockyer at Western. Picture: Colin Templeton
Julie Gordon, Scott Drennan and coach Adam Lockyer at Western. Picture: Colin Templeton

The real story, though, is the discovery of the first Scott Drennan.

It is told with evangelical zeal by a tennis missionary. Julie Gordon is 38 and has been coaching the sport for 20 years. Her vocation is not only to refine the racket skills of children but simply to bring the sport to the masses, particularly in Glasgow.

Her work at the Western Health and Racquets Club in Hyndland almost exclusively consists of trying to improve the skills of youngsters. Her aim is not to produce a Wimbledon champion. It is much more ambitious than that.

"I believe you are offering them one of the great gifts. You are giving them a chance to enjoy a sport for life," she says of the children she coaches. "This is a game where you can play at whatever age. On Friday mornings we have 80-year-olds who come along to play."

This brings us to Scott Drennan, a nine-year-old, and hundreds of other children. Gordon has helped launch A Coach, A Court and A Competition with financial assistance from Clyde Property and sportscotland. Eighteen primary schools in the north- west of Glasgow - from Hyndland to Cadder - are involved in the initiative that seeks to broaden the appeal of the sport. Primary 4 children were offered four weeks of coaching, a teacher in-service course, free equipment and a competition to show how far they had come.

The scheme has something of a pedigree. "Scott was a star in last year's competition," says Gordon of Drennan of that ilk. "He immediately showed he had ability. He took part in an 80-shot rally so he had the co-ordination and the basic skills."

One year on, young Scott plays in club tournaments and beyond and was the runner-up in his age group. "There are some kids who can just play without formal coaching," says Gordon.

If Gordon and friends supply the coaching and the final of the competition is to be held in Scotstoun tonight, then the court has been a vital part of the initiative.

"Most kids play tennis in tight gyms on, basically, badminton courts," she says. "We have provided full-sized courts here and at other clubs so that the pupils can really get an idea of what the game is about and have a real swing at it."

"We have to give them an offer they can't refuse," says Gordon. "We have to make sure tennis is accessible. Basically, we have to give them a chance to play. The coaching is not to make them great players. It is about helping them to enjoy their sport. The best talent will be spotted for elite level but I am passionate about tennis development and I want more kids to play the sport. We are in a great catchment area but we have to be pro-active to get kids. We have to try to convert them and think outside the box where they can play."

The legacy will continue with the Lawn Tennis Association and Aegon, the financial company with a history of supporting tennis, giving the schools equipment if teachers complete a training programme. "We want to put something down that brings kids into the game and, more importantly, keeps them there," she says.

This is where the missionary zeal kicks in. It is the product of a personal experience. "I think what sport has done for me and I just want other people to share it," says Gordon, who is a marathon runner of some seriousness, clocking under three hours for the distance.

She has travelled the world coaching, spending some time recently in Melbourne. "It is wonderful to watch young players coming through with some becoming coaches at this club," she says of the Western.

"You see them grow into good people with leadership skills. Sport not only brings people together and can help with social skills but it is about more than that. It is something that can remain with you for the rest of your life."

Gordon is grateful that she has watched a fellow countryman in the shape of Murray winning grand slams, most notably Wimbledon last year, but she says: "Obviously, Andy is a phenomenon but the kids playing on these courts or competing in the final at Scotstoun have the chance to play a sport and that is a great thing. "

A Coach, A Court and A Competition is not about the next Andy Murray. It is about Scott Drennan and his mates. It is also about Ms Gordon. "I personally feel very lucky," she says. "I see my job as getting people in and giving them the opportunity of having a good time."

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