Nari Sohal is the Team Lead at the Slough-based Nishkam SWAT (Sikh Welfare Awareness Team) Youth Club. Last year the club introduced the Tennis Foundation’s SERVES project to their activities and tennis has gone down a storm ever since!
The SERVES programme takes tennis into urban and disadvantaged communities, places it has never been played before, equipping people from those communities with the skills to provide tennis activities for everyone.
At Nishkam SWAT Youth Club, tennis was a sport that hadn’t been exposed to many of the club’s children before the SERVES project started there in October, but the youths and volunteers are now enjoying tennis on a regular basis, and are feeling the benefits.
Nari has been delighted with how the programme has been embraced. The club has developed much quicker than anticipated, and they have found the SERVES programme to be a great way to maintain health, fitness and agility, while witnessing social and psychological advantages.
“It’s been amazing,” said Nari, discussing the impact that the programme has had. “I was a bit worried at first because we were starting something new, but it has helped us so much — the social skills, the modules, and the team-building with the children has been great.
“We’ve seen such a difference in some of the children and youth that we have at the club. A lot of them hadn’t been exposed to tennis, or they didn’t have the confidence to play. They were worried that they couldn’t hit the ball and saying they can’t play, but six or seven months down the line they’re the same people who are really enjoying the game.
“The SERVES programme has helped us to be trained to deliver the programme and teach it in a fun way. We’re now starting to use the courts outside which has been great — they’ve developed their skills inside and now they’re taking them outdoors and they’ve got the confidence to do it.
“It’s really important that people are exposed to tennis. There are so many different levels, starting from people who have never hit a ball — it’s just a game you can enjoy, no matter what level you are.”
“We’ve had children playing with each other who are at the same level, but now we’ve got some playing with people who are slightly better than them, because they’ve got the right skills behind them and they’ve got the confidence to do that now.”
The growth of the programme at the club has not gone unrecognised. Earlier this year, SWAT were nominated for the SERVES Community Tennis Project of the Year at the 2018 British Ethnic Diversity Sports Awards (BEDSA). And what’s more, they won — a truly fantastic achievement in such a short space of time.
That recognition has only benefitted the club further, with interest and recruitment on the rise since being presented with the award back in March. It serves as a daily reminder of how important tennis is to SWAT, and gives all involved with the youth club something to be proud of.
“We were surprised to be nominated, so just to be a finalist was amazing,” Nari continued, reflecting on the BEDSA honour. “We’re really proud — we opened the youth club in September and to win not long after is fantastic.
“The support that the children, the activators, volunteers and everybody else have given us… it’s not just what we’ve done; we’ve all done it together. They’re so proud to come in every day and see that BEDSA award there, and it’s been great for us. We’ve had children coming along saying ‘we hear you play tennis here’ and we’ve taken on new recruits since.”
Since winning the award, young people from the group attended the inaugural SERVES tennis festival at Lee Valley in April, which brought together 150 people from SERVES sites in different communities across London and the south east.
And as a further reward, the Tennis Foundation has provided the opportunity for a group of children from SWAT to attend Wimbledon on Saturday, where they will get to experience those at the very pinnacle of the sport up close — and they can’t wait for the opportunity.
“The support that we get and the opportunities that we’re still getting from the Tennis Foundation has really helped the youth club” Nari explained. “Opportunities like the BEDSA, like going to Wimbledon… it’s just fantastic. It’s been hard choosing who to take along, but they’re all so excited because they haven’t been to Wimbledon before. The doors that the Tennis Foundation have opened for us and for them has been amazing, and we’re so grateful.”