Ben Tilling - A Coach's Story


Ben Tilling Summarises His Career So far at Backwell

When I first arrived at Backwell 12 years ago, I was given a 6 hour a week contract, which allowed me to arrange one adult and five junior classes.

Numbers were 30/35 juniors and just 2/3 adults in coaching. I had long term vision of how the club would look starting with a 5 year plan, based upon a coaching model that I wanted to introduce, based on a mentoring programme for the club's older juniors (16 onwards). I was a lone figure for the first 2 years, before the first Level 1 assistant coaches came through the junior programme.  This all paid off as 6 years on we had over 150 juniors & 50 adults, and we were bringing through 3/4 level 1 coaches each year. 

In addition to the club coaching we also started an outreach programme in the local schools which was carried out by myself and all was unpaid but this is how we began to form links in the community.

It was at this stage I needed a 'number two' to help me as I was coaching 40+ hours,  6 days a week and running the “off court” business on a Sunday or last thing at night. The number two role had to be delivered by a LTA level 2 coach , so we set in place a system where the more able and keen juniors would carry onto complete the Level 2.

A further 6 years on and the stats are quite amazing for a community club of our size. At its peak we had some 280 juniors, 100 adults & 100 children in schools coaching each week. Numbers have eased back as the footprint was a little too high for our 5 courts and winter has of course set in, but we still have 180 juniors 70 adults & 100 children in schools playing each week and this is after the exceptional autumn of rain we have had. This normally rises back to over 200 juniors in the summer months as well.

On the numbers front for the coaches, we have had over 50 level 1 coaches and 15 level 2 coaches come through the coach mentoring scheme. I have had over 30 children join us on work experience and helped some 200+ children with their Bronze / Silver & Gold D of E's (Duke of Edinburgh).

Of those coaches coming through, Alex Norman moved to Sydney Australia to help pay for his degree, Joe Lyon using his level 2 to be a lead coach at Camp America just outside New York for three summers. Nick Gray is now on the staff at King Edwards school in Bath as Head of Tennis and our most advanced coaching graduate, Henry Hoult, has completed his Level 3 and has moved to a full time coaching role at David Lloyd. Finally in the latter part of last year, Tom Fowler, was appointed head coach at Nailsea Tennis Club and is completing his Level 3 this summer.

Ben Tilling & Tom Fowler

That is just to mention a few, for example, Freya Hollowood is head & captain of the Liverpool University tennis social team, so the level 1 badge gets used in many ways.

As for me, I gained my level 3 & 4 badges at a young age & have been one of Avon's level 4 key coaches for many years. I also won the LTA Avon “Coach of the Year” award in 2015 and Backwell Tennis Club won Avon’s “Community Club of the Year” award in 2018.  A few years ago when we expanded the club facilities, we also ran the biggest open day in South West with the opening ceremony for the new 5th court.

The club run more teams than any other in Junior & Adult combined across the Avon & North Somerset leagues, and for a 5 court club we really have punched well above our weight for many many years. 10 junior league teams is unheard of, so for it to come from a 5 court community club and not a “David Lloyd” makes it even more amazing.

Hayley James reached the “Road to Wimbledon” 1/4 finals at Wimbledon years ago now & we have had many players going onto the Road to Wimbledon finals weekend county tennis. Many of our top juniors have dabbled with county tennis & whilst other commitments may not allow them the necessary time, when they turn up at the county events, many of our juniors beat players of much better ratings.

I guess for me as the person responsible for all this over the last 12 years, the legacy I want to leave is to give all those children who have played tennis with myself and the team ' a real sport for life' and try to instill in them the love and enjoyment I have always had for the game, even if they put down the racket at 17 & don't pick it up again for 10 years! I try to bring that passion to every lesson and hour that I coach (which is too many to count!).

As an addendum to all that: I am a strong proponent for 'tennis in all weather' , for example at a recent night's coaching anyone would think I was mad, in pouring rain, having all 12 adults for the final 'adult league session' of the season having coached all day through the same. And this while sessions at local football clubs were abandoned! Its true to say that at Backwell Tennis Club we will always go out, regardless of whether it’s rain, wind or shine!