PTR PRO OF THE YEAR
Member Barry Clarke has been awarded Pro of the Year 2020 for his dedication and attitude towards developing coach education in Northern Ireland, as well as how his he promotes PTR education at Ballymena Lawn Tennis Club, where he is Head Coach.
Barry has written to us why tennis has become his passion in life:
Tennis has been in my blood from the age of 5, hitting up against the farm yard wall, many thanks to my Grandpa. He said “Barry if you can rally to 100, I will play a match against you.” I haven’t stopped playing tennis since that day.
I’ve been a member of Ballymena Lawn Tennis Club since the age of 9, going on 18 years now. Playing for the club has always been a great passion for me, both in junior leagues, external tournaments and now into my senior career. I’ve never envisaged playing anywhere else, it is quite frankly my second home.
I began as an assistant coach in 2009 at the age of 16, helping out with the mini tennis programme. Teaching has always been a passion of mine, from a young age. Seeing the young players smile, improve each week, and have a real joy for the game was a true highlight for me. This helped me begin my pathway to become a tennis coach.
In 2010, I decided that I wanted to take my coaching to the next level, so I signed up for the PTR Coaching Course in Belfast. I was surrounded by some amazing players and future coaches, and at times was slightly intimidated by everyone. However, I worked hard, and got the basic coaching qualification which allowed me to begin coaching.
I wasn’t satisfied though, I wanted to get better. I read as many books as I could, watched matches online, and signed up for coaching tutorials to learn how to be a better player and most importantly a better coach. My willingness to research, I believe is key, and to have the confidence to reach out, and ask for help, in order to learn more and improve my weaknesses.
I assisted coaching at the club between 2011-2014, taking various festivals and squads while continually looking to evolve as a coach. In 2015 the opportunity presented itself for me to become head coach of Ballymena Lawn Tennis Club, and I decided to take over the reigns of the club.
I sat down with my fellow coaches and friends, Ian and Weronika, and we really believed we could make the club better. This is a club we grew up with, membership was dwindling, and we believed our love for BLTC could reignite the club’s success.
Tennis for Everyone became the new mantra for the club. I wanted BLTC to really become a place for all the family. This was the start of our community outreach, where tennis in our club is presented to the many and not the few. When I took over as head coach in 2015 our junior club had approximately 25 full time members. This year we have now hit 100 regular attendees. I fully believed in the BLTC’s vision and I am grateful our committee is to.
I ensured lessons and squads were accessible to everyone who wished to participate in them. We now have junior league teams in both the U14 and U18, who are vying for league wins. These are social tennis players, people from the local community, who we at BLTC have helped shape and mould into super community tennis players. The U18 boys team who I captained from 2015, won their winter league and now compete in Division 1. We now have a good female contingent who are eager players also.
I’m a firm believer in having good female representation in all sport especially tennis. In 2017 I learned about the Women’s Tennis Coaching Association ran by Sarah Stone. This lady coaches top WTA players, and high performance athletes regularly.
Myself and Ian McClean have went to two of the organisations conferences, one in Paris and the other in Eastbourne. Sitting in a room with top level coaches inspired me, seeing how to coach girls and women in sport was an amazing experience. I needed to see this, to learn how to do things correctly, and provide a platform for our players. As a coach I want to be surrounded by people who are better than me, as that is how we can strive for greatness.
We at BLTC are very lucky as we also have an excellent female coach in Weronika Slawinska and I loved sharing what I had learned at these conferences with her. Teamwork with all the BLTC staff is important, as I am very lucky to work with coaches who all excel at different areas. As a director of coaching that makes my job easier and offers our club so many opportunities to get better.
By focusing on community tennis, I have developed coaching links with local primary and secondary schools to help get the club’s name out there. We have organised social events such as a club ladies’ day, seasonal events, rusty rackets for beginner players or those who haven’t played for years, and have really promoted inclusion of all abilities.
Social Tennis for our senior club is applauded, as people of all ages can come and play together in a friendly, sociable and welcoming environment. Our 5 courts are regularly filled with eager adults wanting to play some doubles!
I created a junior volunteer programme which allowed those aged 14 and over to help with mini tennis. Many of these volunteers are now doing their level 1 play and stay assistant coach qualification. One of the juniors I coached is now a PTR coach, another is at university playing tennis. Just recently I created a junior club committee which allowed our young members to voice their opinions in regards to the club. They have a platform where they know what they say is important and is being listened to. The juniors are part of the club’s future and they need to be valued and respected.
I never got into tennis coaching for the silverware or the titles. Tennis to me epitomises the word “community”. This is what Ballymena Lawn Tennis Club has become. I am seeing juniors stay with the club into their adulthood, move into the senior leagues and wanting to take on an active role in the club. Seeing young people I coached wanting to become coaches is truly the best feeling for any coach to have.
The proudest moment of my coaching career so far – is seeing so many people at our club, of all levels and abilities playing the best game in the word. I wanted to be a coach who is welcoming, kind and sensitive to the players needs and ultimately who is their biggest cheerleader.
For any coach or club to be successful I firmly believe you need to show every member of that club the same attention and respect, no matter if they are on your court for a lesson, or passing you by in the car park.
If you invest in the person, over the lesson/membership fee you will be part of a truly memorable and sociable tennis club that will flourish for years to come.
Finally I would like to thank PTR for honouring me with PTR Pro of the Year award. A special mention has to go to Andy Dowsett of SYSTEM-9 and PTR GB who has been a terrific mentor to me over the last 3-4 years.
While it may be me that is receiving this award, Ballymena Lawn Tennis Club wouldn’t be as successful today if it wasn’t for the amazing team I get to work with every week.
Ian McClean, Weronika Slawinska, Matthew Robinson, Pol McAleese, Matt Smith and Colin Smith are fantastic coaches who are all equally as dedicated to ensuring our club provides a tennis community for everyone. A special mention must also go to our wonderful junior volunteers who do a terrific job inspiring the mini tennis players of the future.
We also have an amazing club committee led by Club Chairman Fergus Barklie, Secretary Karen Cherry and Treasurer Mary Goodwin. Without your support and trust in my ideas they wouldn’t have come to fruition.
As a junior I had great coaches, which included Chris Gallagher, Joanne Logan and Laura Boyd. You always ensured we had fun when training, and that sense of feeling at ease on the court has stayed with me throughout my coaching career.
To conclude I would like to dedicate this award to the man who introduced me to tennis, due to his love of Wimbledon, and getting me to hit against the farm yard wall – My Granpa – Wilnor Clarke
We also had a lovely commendation by the treasurer at Barry’s club, Balleymena Lawn Tennis Club:
Barry has risen through the ranks of BLTC from a junior member to a stalwart senior member and is our number one male league player. Barry has been a coach with us for many years and has made many friends through his association with the Club. He has, undoubtedly, increased and helped to retain members for both the junior and senior clubs with his enthusiasm and love of the game. Nothing is a bother to Barry, he goes over and above the duties required of him and I know one person generally does not make a Club but Barry is the exception to this. BLTC would not be the same without Barry Clarke. His assistance to me as Treasurer is immeasurable. In the past, he has brought in many new members to both senior and junior club. We are a victim of our own success in that a decision had to be taken to cap numbers as so many juniors want to join. He introduced “Rusty Racquets” and in doing so was instrumental in BLTC senior club having more female members than male last year. He is always working on ideas of bringing in new members and is particularly enthusiastic about promoting tennis to increase our female junior membership. The majority of “Rusty Racquets” re-joined the Club and have loved getting back to tennis and many friendships have been made over the past years since he introduced it. He makes members feel welcome and inclusive. As our number one male player in leagues he often Captains the A Team and is a wonderful ambassador for tennis and for BLTC.
As our Head Coach, he has a lot of responsibility from ensuring enough coaches are involved in the training sessions to planning training sessions and drills and incorporating new ideas into sessions. This preparatory work is all done in his own time. We are a non-profit making Club and our coaches fees are low, so believe me he’s not in it for the money. He loves tennis and spreading the joy of playing for young and old alike. Our membership age ranges from 5 to 83. As a coach he is firm, fair and makes tennis fun. All the qualities in a coach that Clubs would dream of.
During the current COVID 19 pandemic he has kept in touch with all members of the Club both individually and on group WhatsApp. He has sent out training videos and as a qualified teacher offered his assistance to parents if they needed any materials.
We are delighted that Barry has received the recognition he so deserves in winning this Award. Thank you and congratulations Barry.
Ballymena Lawn Tennis Club
Congratulations to Barry Clarke, PTR Pro of the Year 2020!