For Kim Kachel, CEO of Tennis ACT, the sport is in his blood. With his father a professional player and later head coach at the AIS in Canberra, Kachel spent his formative years around the sport across the country, playing it in Australia and America at college. An internship at Tennis Australia started his professional career in the sport with his role as CEO of Tennis ACT aligning after over a decade of various roles at Tennis Australia.
For the past three years, the mandate of getting more people to play tennis more often has been the mission of Kachel and the governing body of tennis in the ACT and region. The directive has been so successful that participation in tennis has skyrocketed at record growth – participation has soared some 144% in the past two years alone. According to Kachel, this starts at a grassroots level. “[The growth] Is largely underpinned by the ‘Sport in Schools’ program and the ‘Book A Court’ program,” he says. “One of our main participation initiatives is ‘Tennis in Schools’ via the ANZ Tennis Hotshots program and the ‘Sport in Schools’ partnership. We’ve now got tennis embedded in over 60% of primary schools across the ACT and region.”
“We feel like tennis delivered in schools is just a fantastic initiative,” he says. “Through the ANZ Tennis Hotshots program we’ve actually hand delivered thousands of tennis racquets to first year primary school students. Providing that positive first tennis experience fosters a love of the sport for many of the kids and sets them on the path of a healthy and active lifestyle. We’re increasingly seeing the benefits of tennis – and all sports – but in particular tennis, research is showing that it adds 7-10 years to your life, so it helps your longevity and the mental health aspects associated with participating in tennis and sport are really significant.”
“We’ve currently got 22 venues across the ACT and region utilising our ‘Book A Court’ system, an innovative booking hardware and software solution which allows thousands of casual players to get back out on court and access courts very, very easily,” he continues. “We saw 38,608 bookings through that system in 2019, which is fantastic.”
The numbers are staggering but such significant participation numbers are imperative for tennis to continue to grow and foster talent in the area, as well as support and recognise the lifeblood of the sport – coaches, volunteers and clubs. Current high profile Australian tennis players from the area include household names Nick Kyrgios, James Frawley and Alison Bai.
“On the performance side of things, the ACT and region certainly bats well above it’s average,” Kachel says. “Led by Nick Kyrgios, who’s been the number one Australian male for a long period of time. Behind the scenes, Nick’s really contributed a lot back to the ACT and the Canberra community, he’s done a fantastic job there.” “Alison’s a fantastic role model for our up and coming stars and on that front, we have Annerly Poulos, who’s grown up in the ACT and is a product of the Canberra environment,” he says. “She’s regarded as one of the best 16 year old girls globally, so she’s a real talent. Coming up behind her, we’ve got Charlie Camus who’s the number one 12 year old and under athlete and has represented the ACT at the Bruce Cup recently as well.”
“We’ve got a fantastic network of clubs, coaches, volunteers and schools that do a great job of promoting the sport and growing our great game,” he continues. “The time, effort, energy and passion that they contribute is second to none – they are what creates the thriving tennis culture and community we have here in the ACT and region and we’re forever indebted to the tireless work of our volunteers, coaches, club committee members and school teachers that are all helping drive the sport and providing those positive tennis experiences. It’s a very satisfying feeling to know that they are providing tennis to thousands upon thousands.”
Kachel’s pride in tennis also lies in its inclusivity and diversity as a sport. “It really is the sport for life – you can play from age 5 to age 105,” he says. “We’ve got two fantastic role models in our current champions Dylan Alcott and Ash Barty. Dylan, a player with a disability who’s broken through the glass ceiling and shining a light on disabled and able bodied disabled people in the community at large, ” he continues. “And Ash Barty, a proud Indigenous female as world number one, currently, and one of the most high profile athletes in Australian sport.”
“So, we’re really proud of how inclusive and diverse Tennis Australia is. It doesn’t matter your age, gender, ethnicity, religious orientations, sexual orientations – tennis welcomes you with open arms and is the sport for everyone.”
The Australian Sports Foundation established a relationship as fundraising partner with Tennis ACT several years ago, of which has continued to grow in status and importance. Such initiatives as the Tennis ACT Walk of Fame, the redevelopment of the Canberra Tennis Centre and the continued work of the Tennis ACT Foundation have significantly benefitted from the partnership. So, too, have players and clubs of all scopes and size.
“We’ve particularly found it useful for our representative teams – our young, aspiring athletes through the Team ACT portal in the Bruce Cup and the Pizzey Cup teams,” Kachel says. “We’re continuing to see clubs embrace the Australian Sports Foundation and the fundraising initiatives that they can do for projects which really help the community. It’s fantastic to have the Australian Sports Foundation as a way and a means to have these clubs raise valuable funds.”
“We’re really excited here at Tennis ACT about what lies ahead. We’ve got some fantastic initiatives through Team ACT, we hope to continue the partnership with the Australian Sports Foundation and we’re looking at some exciting new facilities potentially in growth corridors of the ACT and ideally a new facility in Gungahlin. We’ve got some fantastic events coming up with the APIS Canberra International competition that will showcase the world’s elite players here at the Canberra Tennis Centre. Most importantly, we’re keen to get more people out on court more often.”
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