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Tennis – Not just for Wimbledon…

If you are a tennis fan, you will be very aware of the spectacular end of year WTA Finals that have just taken place in Singapore, involving the biggest names in women’s world tennis, players such as Venus Williams, Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza and Caroline Wozniacki.

When I think back to some of the conversations I had with my wife, Elena Baltacha-Severino when we were on the world tennis tour, I can remember some of the very funny questions she could be asked. The funniest one I remember came just after Wimbledon one year, when a lady asked Elena,

“What do you do now that Wimbledon has finished for you, do you have another job to go back to?”

I’m sure that for many people in the UK, tennis awareness in is all about Wimbledon, and then for the rest of the year it’s forgotten until the world’s top tennis players once again arrive in Wimbledon.

Wimbledon brought Elena and I so many privileges and experiences, and one of the events that stands out was when the Queen visited Wimbledon.

Elena was one of the players chosen to meet the Queen along with players like Serena and Venus Williams, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. It was truly fantastic to see the crowds react in such a positive and supportive way to the Queen.

This could not be further from the truth, I travelled the world tennis tour by Elena’s side for eight years and our tournament schedule always started in December. I remember this vividly as we would always have to tear ourselves away from the family after Boxing Day Lunch at exactly 3pm, when our transport arrived to take us to Heathrow Airport.

This was a bittersweet occasion, it was the start of the new tennis year and everything we worked so hard for, but it was also the beginning of a six-week block away from our home and family, starting with the hugs and kisses and the goodbyes which ended the Christmas period for Elena and I.

Elena at the Australian Open, ready to compete against the best in the world.

Justine Henin, arguably one of the best tennis female tennis players ever, giving Elena the respect she so rightly deserved.

This trip was a long one. From our door in Ipswich to our hotel in New Zealand took 33 hours – that’s pretty mind blowing when I think about it now. Back then, we took it in our stride as it was part of our very abnormal life on the world tennis tour, which always delivered many strange, interesting and funny experiences.

One year we were in the lounge in Dubai, waiting for our connection, relaxing and having a coffee, a bite to eat and a chat, when ex Ipswich Town Manager Roy Keane and his family came into view.

It was a striking sight, Roy striding forwards to the restaurant area with the rest of the family all behind him trying to keep up with the pace, his wife and all five children. It really is quite amazing who you can bump into, literally on the other side of the world.

Playing on the WTA Tour and at the biggest tennis tournaments in the world such as the Australian Open, a Grand Slam, means you work around some of the best players in the world, such as the one and only Rafael Nadal.

The tournament in New Zealand started a relentless year for us which included around 40 weeks of travelling, from New Zealand we would travel to Australia for the first Grand Slam of the year in January.  This would lead into another run of tournaments which would lead to the French Open in May, which would be followed by another run of tournaments which included a phase, affectionately known as “The Grass”, which of course leads into Wimbledon.

This period included tournaments in Birmingham, Eastbourne finishing with the The Wimbledon championships in July. We would leave the grass courts to go back on the hard courts and the phase entering into the last of the four Grand Slams, the US Open in New York, which started at the end of August. Our competitive year finished with tournaments in Asia and Russia taking us to the end of October.

As you walk down the hall to the competition courts, the walls celebrate past glorious champions such as Monica Seles, Boris Becker, Steffi Graf, Ivan Lendl.

The Tennis Tour finale would include the World’s top eight players all competing in the end of year WTA Finals which has just been completed last week.

The two players that made the final were Caroline Wozniacki and the tennis legend Venus Williams, who is an incredible 37 years old. It’s strange, as life on the tennis tour is one big travelling sporting family, and both these players were a big part of our lives as we played our role on the world tour.

Both players, I must say, are incredible individuals, great athletes, competitors and great champions who know how to handle their responsibilities as tennis role models and sporting celebrities, always treating their support teams and fans with great respect. It’s a shame only one could come out of the finals in Singapore a champion, on this occasion it was Caroline Wozniacki.

It was an incredible victory for Caroline, as she entered the final having lost to Venus seven times, in their last seven encounters, it took the Dane 89 minutes to achieve this victory, which was accompanied by a fantastic trophy, 1,375 ranking points and a staggering $2,247,000 in total prize money. I think Caroline has now deserved her close season and some family time, before it all starts again for her in December!

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Rio, Manchester United and Pivotal Moments..

It’s fantastic to read that the ex-England defender Rio Ferdinand has found love again.

As a widower I know the emotional trauma that this man has had to endure, and I wish him and Kate Wright the TOWIE star all the best for the future.

Losing Elena has been traumatic for me on many levels, as I lost my wife, my best friend, the business of sport we were both involved in, and of course, the biggest loss, my soul mate.

Some of my treasured memories of the loving times I spent with Elena

We were together 24/7 on the WTA World Tour, sharing some fantastic experiences together

Reading this story took me back to when Rio and my life paths crossed. It was one of those pivotal events that affected my whole life.

I invented a training system called Footsport Dynamics and presented it at a professional sports conference at the NEC in Birmingham.

Some of the Manchester United Football Club representatives attended and watched my demonstration and on my drive back home, I got a call from my office saying that they had bought the system.

Within a week I was on my way to the world renowned Manchester United Training ground, Carrington. I met the Manchester United coaching staff led by a great man called Joe Filo who made this experience outstanding.

Great memories of the time I spent with Jo Filho and the Manchester United FC Coaching Team

I set my equipment out and waited for the under-18 squad to appear, there was a door that I was told they were going to come through and I was expecting a group of young players with big dreams. What happened next was a moment I will never forget.

There was a big bang, the door was flung open and a young first team player called Wayne Rooney came bounding energetically into the training area. He was followed by Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand.

Rooney was very friendly and started some banter, I had an inspirational conversation with Ole, before seeing Rio and the rest of the first team members all moving outside for their training session.

I then did what I was there to do and delivered the session for the under 18 players.

We all experience life changing moments and for me, this one validated how much I loved working with elite athletes, and motivated me even further to keep developing my craft and seeing where the path of coaching would take my life.

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Sport is our Saviour

Elena with a young Muay Thai fighter in Thailand

I recently posted a blog about sport being a solution for those finding themselves steering off the straight and narrow and into unacceptable behavior; I wanted to follow this up by using a high profile sports personality who found sport as their saviour.

Both Elena and I were very interested in the sport of fighting, we both recognised the similarities between fighting and tennis, and both of us recognised the benefits that sport can give to young children. While we were on the WTA World Tour Elena took full advantage of a player event commitment run by the WTA, which was attending a Muay Thai tournament in Thailand. We were both very impressed with the young fighters, their discipline and level of skill.

The person I wanted to focus on is Anthony Joshua, who currently is the unified World Champion, holding IBF, WBA and IBO titles.

This in itself is an incredible achievement, but for anyone who comes from the fighting business will know, what makes this near to a minor miracle, is the fact that Anthony did not start boxing until he was 18 and for me, as an ex fighter, this is mind blowing.

To put this into perspective, Floyd Mayweather started when he was 7, Robert Duran at 8, Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, and Lenox Lewis were all 12, these fighters had between 6-11 years head start on Anthony, that’s a massive amount of time in terms of sport skill development.

Great memories of the England fighters at crystal Palace, during an England training camp

Anthony would be the first to admit that he has not always been the great role model that he is today with a list of criminal behavior that does not make good reading, remanded in Reading Prison for fighting, possession of cannabis, supplier of class B drugs.

It could have all been so different if he had not committed 100% to a sport.

Sport embeds certain aspects into your life, focus, routine, mental and physical discipline, all great elements that protect young people from the negative temptations in life.

Anthony Joshua is not the only young man to be saved by sport, the list is endless, I believe the earlier a child adds sport to their life, the better.

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The Elena Baltacha Foundation Awards 2017

I’m very happy to announce that the 2017 Elena Baltacha Foundation Awards will be the most prestigious so far. From humble beginnings we have secured the support of the Women’s World Tennis Governing body, the WTA who will be our event partners.

I’ve had a number of very exciting conference calls with the WTA Miami office, discussing how we would work together. This has been emotional for me, as it shows the respect our world governing body has for Elena and all she achieved off court with her foundation.

During Elena’s illness and the fight that she put up against cancer, a cruel disease, the WTA offered us both so much support.

From my perspective, I can tell you that this world-wide organisation has a massive heart and compassion, and when one of their own confronted this life trauma, they were there to help on many levels.

 

This support extended to our foundation, supported by attendance at events from many of the stars of the tennis world, and led by our incredible Patron Judy Murray. The outpouring of emotion and support was overwhelming and made a big difference to us both during this very traumatic time.

It’s incredible to think that this is the fourth Elena Baltacha Foundation Awards since my wife and I were separated.

To be honest, although I love watching the children receiving the awards, the first three award ceremonies had an edge of sadness for me. I was thinking about Elena all the way through, she absolutely loved the awards and had so much fun with the children.

 

This year is different, I feel very positive, and I see the event as a major celebration of Elena’s life and what she is still achieving through the children. It’s a very special year, as our very good friend Anne Keothavong will be attending as our guest of honour. Anne grew up with Elena in tennis, with both reaching the professional ranks, and in 2012, competing as members of Team GB, partnering each other in doubles.

Anne, who is now Great Britain Fed Cup Captain and BT Sport Commentator, is also one of our valued foundation Ambassadors. She will be joined by James Burridge, from the BBC, who will be presenting the evening, James has supported both Elena and I with BBC coverage while we travelled and competed on the world tour. He continued this support by always having time for the foundation and featuring us on the BBC sports news programmes on a regular basis.

The event will also be attended by many of our local sporting stars, who will be there to celebrate Elena’s life, support the young children who have all worked so hard, and of course enjoy the glittering evening which will include a red carpet experience for all.

If you would be interested in joining us for this very special event on the 10th December at Trinity Park, please contact [email protected], it will be a pleasure to share the evening with you. You can attend on your own, with a partner or take a full or part corporate table.

 

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Elena, Judy and the Strictly Effect

I’m privileged to say I have some great people from the world of sport in my life, from all different areas, commentators, pundits, athletes from many different sports, with Judy Murray being one of them.

Not only was she a great support to me when Elena my wife and I were going through our biggest battle, but also after Elena passed, she was there, unconditionally for me, even making special trips to Ipswich for me personally and for the children of The Elena Baltacha Foundation which she is patron of.

Judy has in the past, wrongly been seen as quite a hard personality, a tough tennis mum, this could not be further from the truth. Being a tennis parent is a very tough gig; after all, it involves the person, or persons, in Judy’s case who mean the most to you. Sport, especially tennis, is one of the most demanding sports, and can take a toll on the athlete’s body and mind, and of course, the parent has to witness. It is no wonder then that Judy would have a very intense look on her face, during the matches of both Andy and Jamie, and this gave a lot of people the wrong impression.

I’m so pleased that through her involvement in Strictly Come Dancing the public have connected with her and have got to know the real Judy Murray, a warm, intelligent lady with a great personality. Anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting her will tell you this; she gives you her time and makes you feel special.

I was fortunate enough to be invited by Judy to attend her first evening on Strictly, what a fantastic experience this was, I used to dance myself, ballroom and Latin, and we are a big dancing family, including a couple of family members who teach internationally. My sister Anna came with me, she teaches and is a massive strictly fan, so you can imagine, she had an unbelievable experience.

It was great to see Judy with all the strictly stars in the teachers and dancers lounge, and the genuinely close relationship that she had developed with her partner Anton Du Beke. In fact, watching Judy interact with all the dancers and celebrities, it was clear that she was genuinely very popular. It goes without saying that my sister made the most of this opportunity and talked too many of the stars of Strictly Come Dancing.

Both Judy and Anton Du Beke entertained the viewers so much and stayed in the competition all the way to the Blackpool Tower special week, impressive achievement for someone who confessed “I am the worst dancer”! Judy would be the first to admit that she is not the best dancer in the world, but she gave it everything, every week, and was massively popular with the watching viewers.

Judy’s sons have achieved much through the tennis world, they are both Grand Slam Champions, including Wimbledon, Andy also a multiple ATP title holder and Olympic Champion. I think Judy has done an incredible job, not only bringing up the boys and guiding them through their early years, but also building the development pathway for Scotland Tennis, which many great tennis players have emerged from, who coincidentally, includes the great Leon Smith, Captain of our World beating Davis Cup Champions.

She then went on to supporting the boys on the professional tour, seeing both the  Andy Murray and Jamie Murray achieve incredible successes, and if this was not enough, go on to create programmes and training systems, such as Miss Hits, Tennis on the Road and She Rallies that have had a major effect on girls and women in tennis. Judy has much, much more to offer, it will be very interesting to watch her personal story unfold now.

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Sport – a positive solution for disaffected kids?

Did you see the debate on Good Morning Britain this morning with Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid? They were debating the role that foster parents play with the children in their care and potential terrorism, in the wake of the Parson’s Green bombing last week.

I passionately believe that the National Fostering Agency should consider sport, and the ways in which it can positively impact the children in foster care (who may have experienced huge amounts of trauma in their lives) as one solution. I believe this because I have seen it for myself.

Working with difficult kids

The discussion between Piers and Susanna took me back to my early years of coaching. I took up a position in a Pupil Referral Unit, and I truly believe the experiences I had at this school had a direct effect on my coaching journey and led me to becoming British No.1 Tennis and Olympic Coach.

I’ll cut a very long story short, but the boys I was given to look after were without doubt a massive challenge. Some of them were already involved in drug use and theft, some were violent and had even attacked teachers with knives. From a sports coaching perspective, engaging with these boys was a big ask.

Kick boxing inspires troubled teens

I was a national champion kick boxer, which had led me into coaching the art. I decided to use my skills with these very troubled boys. This was the first major experience I had of how sport could focus children’s minds. In this case, these were boys who had dramatically lost their way in life.

One of the jaw dropping moments happened at my first session, as I walked into the hall to set up. Some of the boys had concealed themselves just outside a door and were smoking and I must admit I thought, “what have I got myself into here!?” Looking back now, I still find it pretty incredible that a month into the programme, I had these boys lining up outside the door of the hall in a disciplined fashion, all bowing like proper martial arts students before entering the door and all fully focused for the session.

They all lined up as kick boxers, and trained to my counts of one, two, three… I’ve experienced a lot in sport, but without a shadow of a doubt, I’m very proud of what these boys achieved.

Boxing can give young men a focus

Below: Nino wth the England boxing team, including Amir Khan.

   

Boxing is a notorious sport for saving young men and boys who have taken the wrong path in life; again, I have first-hand experience of this from the time I spent as part of the England Boxing coaching team.

I was invited by England coach Jim Davison to work at Crystal Palace and the EIS World Class Centre in Manchester, both venues homes of England boxing at the time. I’ll never forget my first session at Crystal Palace. I walked into the training room as a new face and I admit that the tough looks on the faces of the young boxers were a bit intimidating. These boys were fighters and also very tough young men.

I settled in, even joined the team on social evenings to the cinema, and quickly realised that these boys were very respectful, focused, determined young men who were finding self-respect and a place in life, all through sport. Jim said to me at the end of one of our sessions, “Nino, watch out for a lad we have in the team, a boy called Amir Khan, I think he’s going to be good”, and he was right!

Tennis gives young girls a chance to shine

   

Both myself and my late wife Elena, co-founder of the Foundation, witnessed some of the hardships that children could endure. When Elena became interested in helping girls from deprived areas in Ipswich, I told her about my experiences and she said, “We need to use tennis to give these girls a chance.

My wife was so caring and sweet, even if on court her reputation was pretty fierce! We ended up visiting some of our girls in their homes when things got tough for them (to put it mildly). Elena took the time to have a cup of tea with the parents in their homes, and give them her time and support. Through her kindness and her foundation, I believe we have had a massive effect on many children’s lives – through sport and through Elena’s vision. I’m now committed to this work on a daily basis and to keeping her legacy alive through the national work we carry out with children.

I think that the National Fostering Agency should look at ways of linking with sport, and how it could potentially give children who have had major trauma in their lives a positive life focus. Giving kids an opportunity through athletics, boxing, tennis, football, dance or any sport could have an incredible effect on where their life paths could take them.

Children grow up to become the adults in our society; we must explore all the options!

Nino Severino - AMS Founder

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Early Years Pathway to Tennis

Positive influences of sport

Both Elena and I would often talk about how much sport had affected our lives, and gave us both ultimately the opportunity to travel the world doing the job we both loved. We knew that sport can work on many levels in a very positive way:

  • Through early years programme, parents and children can come together in a session environment and add to the bonding process of parent and child. We now know that there are many benefits for very young children to see their parents involved in exercise.
  • Exercise at any age, stimulates and develops the body and the mind in so many, many ways, this all affects the adult the child will ultimately become.
  • Play and fitness can be fun and a positive part of young children’s lives, but we wanted it to be a pathway journey to a chosen sport.
  • If a child stays with a long term programme and finds a sport to join and commit to, this can bring a multitude of benefits.

We know that the modern day child is exposed to many negative aspects of lives, from too much time on a screen all the way through to influences of drugs and other very dangerous habits and addictions. We both believed that children who were committed to a sport, were generally, more respectful to others, disciplined and focused on their sporting goals, which ultimately could counter act and nullify any negative temptations.

Long Term Pathway

Here are some of the benefits that Elena and I discussed when we were planning the long term pathway:

  • Develops commitment
  • Offers structure
  • An opportunity to socialise
  • The opportunity to develop a sporting skill
  • Self confidence
  • Self-pride
  • A sense of belonging to a sporting family
  • A focus on a positive structured lifestyle, nullifying the many negatives that are on offer in our modern world.

The above list are just a few valuable aspects that sport brings to children’s lives, there are many, many more.

Both of us experienced how sport could affect young children’s lives, children like Lewis, Haquim, Yasmina and Tawana who are now well on their way to becoming National tennis players. We offered them the opportunity to enter a quality early years programme, they have both  stayed with us and through the long term pathway they discovered a life in tennis that keeps them healthy and focused in a very positive way.

 

 

 

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Mental Skills Development

The first area I will cover in detail is the most important; I always say to the player nothing happens neck down unless a lot happens neck up. The picture below is of Maria Sharapova, no doubt one of the toughest competitors on the tour, her life experiences have created a tough and intelligent athlete, an athlete who went on to win the greatest titles in the world of tennis, because of what she was capable of through her mental strength. (more…)

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AMS Focus on the Players – Andy Murray

I wanted to pick Andy Murray as my first AMS Player Focus as I have personal experience of him as a man and the incredible family he is part of, including of course his Grand Slam winning brother Jamie Murray and the one and only Judy Murray our Great Britain Fed Cup Captain, or “Gaffa” as I like to call her!

As they say, behind every successful man, there is a strong, wise and hard working woman, behind any top ATP player; there is always a good parent or two! For any senior professional player, it all starts when they are very small children, in Andy’s (more…)

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My AMS ATP World Tour Memories and Experiences

The ATP World Tour Finals Feeling

I’ve just been looking at the images of my last visit to the ATP World Tour Finals and just re-living the amazing memories. The excitement starts as you approach the O2 Arena; it has its own iconic status with the twelve giant King Posts that reach out through the dome top, it represents the staging of a catalogue of events, from music to sport and everything in-between. If you’ve ever attended the ATP World Tour Finals, you’ll know the feeling, it’s that feeling you get when you know you’re about to witness something truly spectacular.

(more…)

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