Peyad LP School is like any other government school in the city - with a small difference. The school sports a 20x40ft tennis ground. Every afternoon, the students of this school flock together in front of the ground, taking turns to play ‘Mini Tennis’. They deftly manoeuvre specially-designed rackets, tackling tennis balls in forehand and backhand positions, with the finesse of a professional. MR Ramesh watches these children enjoy the game with the satisfaction only a trainer can enjoy.
“Tennis was forever tagged as an elite man’s game. Mini Tennis democratises the game, being adapted for children,” says Ramesh, a certified Tennis Registry Professional in the United States. An International Tennis Federation Coach, Ramesh had a passion to do much more than coaching the elite. He has joined hands with Terumo Penpol Limited, to take the ‘elite man’s game’ to the less privileged. The company provides special mini-tennis racquets to children and has helped construct the mini tennis court at Peyad LP School. “The speed with which these children got a hang of Mini Tennis amazes me. It won’t take long for many more children to take to the game of tennis, thanks to this new technique,” says C Balagopal, Managing Director of TPL.
Deeply-passionate about Tennis, Ramesh has devoted himself to the game. With over 18 years of coaching-experience, he’s ranked 6 in the national veteran’s ranking. Ramesh has also represented Kerala from 1978 to 1996 and was also a state veteran’s champion for seven years (2000 - 2006). Tennis is not only in his blood, but in the family too. Ramesh’s daughter Ashwathy is also an acclaimed Tennis player and was ranked 15 in the under-18 category.
Based on the School Tennis Initiative of the International Tennis Federation, Mini Tennis (or Quickstart Tennis) makes use of miniaturised equipment like lower nets, smaller racquets and foam balls. “Smaller equipment will help children understand the nuances of the game better,” explains Ramesh. Besides, the equipment is inexpensive in comparison. Children are segregated into Under-8 and Under 10, in Mini Tennis. Each group has its set of specialised equipments. “I’m trying to build a tennis culture in the city by ‘catching them young’,” he says.
Ramesh has worked along with internationally-reputed coaches like Carlos Goffi and Jim Rolling in the US. He first heard about Mini Tennis in 2007, when he was in the US. Curious about the new format of tennis, he went on to learn more about it. “The first question that came to my mind was: Why don’t I implement this in Trivandrum?” he reminisces. Soon, he returned and talked to authorities at the Army School, Pangode. “They were as enthusiastic as I was, and soon I got the go-ahead to conduct a ‘Mini Tennis camp’,” he says. The camp was a huge success. Over 150 students participated, among whom 30 were selected for the mainstream. Having found acceptance for Mini Tennis, Ramesh set up a ‘Pangode Tennis Club’ in 2007.
Ramesh feels that the game of tennis is quite neglected in the state of Kerala. “I’ve submitted a proposal to the Kerala Sports Council to implement this Quickstart programme in all schools in the state. Without adequate support from the government, it will be difficult to spread word about the game,” he says. At present, Ramesh even puts in his own money to source some of the foam balls and training equipment from the United States.
“The best part about Quickstart Tennis is that it gives fast results,” he says. “The kids could actually hit ground strokes and volley within a matter of ten minutes,” the coach adds. The kids at Peyad LP school mastered the game within a week of training. Ramesh, through his trainer Ajith, identifies groups of twenty students from each batch of hundred-odd participants. These students will be given formal training in the game.
Ramesh’s efforts have started bearing fruit. In fact, St. Thomas School, Mukkolackal has constructed a full-fledged tennis court, just to train children in Mini Tennis. Ramesh regularly trains kids at the school. Ramesh says that Kerala is second only to Karnataka in implementing Mini Tennis. In fact, Terumo Penpol has also agreed to help implement MIni Tennis in other schools too.
“Soon, the day will come when one of my kids will go on to make the nation proud,” he smiles.
- Hari Shanker