My vision is to build an athlete development structure: Rosemary Owino

Kenya is a country known for an abundance of talent, especially in the sports industry but harnessing that potential is one of the challenges the country has faced for a long time. Kenyan tennis players are yet to make a significant mark in the field but efforts are being made to produce future Grand Slam winners who will pave the way for future generations to consider the sport as a viable career option.

In this exclusive interview, Kenyan tennis coach Rosemary Owino speaks about the potential in her country, mental training, overcoming challenges, the need for better infrastructure and her short/long term goals in tennis. 

Q 1) As a tennis coach in Kenya, how much potential do you see in the country and do you believe we can see a Grand Slam winner from Kenya in the future?

There is a lot of potential in Kenya, not only as far as tennis is concerned, but in all the sports. Definitely our weather and altitude might have a lot to do with it but also the culture of our people, of discipline and also the in-built desire to make something better of ourselves and of our society or surroundings. I mean, who ever thought we could have one of the best sprinters in the world, one of the best actresses in the world, and well, I guess the whole world does expect us to have the best long distance runners in the world….so hey, tennis is only but an honest attempt away.

Q 2) Apart from fitness training, how do you provide mental training to aspiring tennis players so that they can go on to compete at the highest level? 

We try to ensure that the players understand what areas of their mental training they need to focus on seasonally and ensure that they include this in their daily practices. We help them to understand that mental skills are as important as tactical and technical training on a daily basis and give them responsibilities to ensure that they carry this out. All the way from goal setting for the season and sessions as they would for a match to preparedness for practice as they would for matches and daily routines and general body language and attitude at every session. We also occasionally hold seminars for the players, parents and coaches to cover different sessions on the same to ensure that everyone on the players support system understands the different ways that we can all work with the players in these areas. 

Q 3) As a tennis coach at Tennis Kenya, what are some of the major challenges you have faced? How can they be rectified? 

One of the biggest challenges has been helping parents and schools find a balance between school and sport for the players. The education system in Kenya is very vigorous and combined with the traffic issues, our young players are barely able to make it to the clubs for training. The fact that the tennis courts are also not easily accessible makes it more difficult to ensure that players are getting a chance to play during the week. What this means is most of our players can only train during the weekends and also for most coaches, those who do not coach at schools, the business of tennis becomes only a weekend one. The ripple effect goes all the way to tournaments, even the few we have, our players struggle to attend and therefore all round sports development is an issue because of this. 

How can they be rectified? First of all, it is important to share the benefits of exercise and sports to a wider extent with the education department so we can all find a middle ground/balance for the players. Then probably build a centre if possible in each county where we as a federation can have our best juniors training together from each region and then with a healthy competition calendar for them all year round, and coaches education, for sure we can have that Grand Slam junior from Kenya in the future….we already have aspiring ones….more to come….there is belief and hope, there is a light.

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Q 4) Do you believe that Kenya needs a better tennis infrastructure for aspiring players to thrive? 

Yes we do, however what is more important is that we need to improve on all the pillars for tennis as a sport in development in Kenya. This entails bettering our coaches education and development programs, organisational and club structures to support tennis. Improve structures from financial support to talent identification and general development systems and ensure that they are functional. We must also improve on our competition structures locally, even as we look at the international events and compete in them. It is also important that as we focus on developing high performance structures and athletes, we also have to grow participation in the sport, so yes, we do need to improve our infrastructure for players to thrive but we also need to do a lot more within the same system for the environment to be conducive for the players to thrive and for there to be consistency in the thriving.

Q 5) What are some of your short and long term goals for the future? How do you plan to achieve them?

One of my short/long term goals is to help my federation develop a manageable Long Term Athlete development structure and to help get the coaches, clubs and schools implement it in their physical education curriculum. The implementation bit falls into my long term goal as looking at our systems at the moment, this could take two to five years. I hope to first of all attempt to make the acting technical directorship job which I currently hold and is a volunteer post at the moment a full time job so activating some of these ideas and making time and getting a team to implement them becomes easier. One of my very long term goals is to see one of our own players, not necessarily my own, get into the top 100 WTA and ATP and I strongly believe that this is possible if we are able to get a functional system in place…which we are working towards daily.


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