Interview with Linda and Alan Almond
November 1, 2018
What made you volunteer to support blind tennis?
I (Linda) had seen a small announcement that the National Visually Impaired 2010 Tennis Championships were taking place at the National Tennis Centre. I was intrigued and also had never seen the NTC before so went with two other Highgate Tennis club members to have a look. The VI players were so welcoming and took the time to explain the rules to us. We were very impressed with the standard of play. Whilst talking we said to get in touch if ever they were doing anything in our area and needed the help of sighted volunteers. Little did we know that the next year they would hold the championships at Islington Tennis Centre and then Metro Blind Sport started regular tennis sessions there soon after!
There used to be only a few regular players but then, as the number of players grew, Alan started helping too as well as our daughter.
What do your roles as volunteers involve?
I started just as any volunteer working one-to-one with a player. But now my role has changed to volunteer co-ordinator. We can have over 10 players at a session, from beginner to competition player, so I often need to find up to 12 helpers for each session. At the beginning of the week I find out which players are planning to attend the Wednesday session and then co-ordinate with my pool of available volunteers. I aim to provide one sighted helper for each player and two for each beginner or player who needs more help. I have a lot of teenagers volunteering as part of their Duke of Edinburgh (D of E) Award so during the tennis session I walk around making sure everyone is ok and knows what they are doing. I also have to make sure we train the volunteers properly and then write the reports to submit to the D of E Award body. We have had 24 teenagers helping in the last couple of years.
Before each session starts we have to mark out the three tennis courts with tactile lines which then have to be taped to the court to prevent tripping. Alan is in charge of this and you will see him kneeling surrounded by teenagers working hard at the beginning of each session. He has adapted a garden cane to make the measuring quicker! It takes quite a bit of time to do properly, but it is worth it as it makes the players feel much more confident moving around the court on their own. At the end of the session he has to rush to take it all up again to get the courts back ready for the next players to come on court.
What do you love about blind tennis?
The people we have met whilst helping with blind tennis have been so lovely and appreciative. We started helping to benefit them but their attitude to life is also an inspiration to us. I love seeing how the players have improved and what it means to them to be able to play. I love the fact that we have had probably over 100 different volunteers helping from age 5 to over 70 years. It’s great to see the young volunteers growing in confidence as they learn to communicate with adults of different backgrounds.
It is also good exercise. Each two-hour session I do about 12,000 steps and lots of bending!
What advice would you give to someone considering volunteering for blind tennis?
Do it. You don’t need to be able to play tennis as there is lots of picking up balls, calling the lines, helping guide and even walking the guide dogs. We have had a few families helping and it’s also perfect for D of E Award scheme.
This response from Naqi, one of our players, perhaps sums it up best:
“When you get that return in, it’s a feeling of jubilation, excitement, euphoria! I hope you can sense how much affection I feel towards you volunteers- making our lives more enjoyable, giving us chance to play sports without worries”.