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How The Duke of Edinburgh Award Led me to Tennis For Free - by Sal Bolton

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How The Duke of Edinburgh Award Led me to Tennis For Free
by Sal Bolton

As HRH The Duke of Edinburgh was laid to rest under the glorious spring sunshine, his almost centurial journey came to an end quite fittingly at a palatial castle amid Englands green and pleasant lands. His final send off was fit for a worthy Prince and the heart-felt tributes pouring in from the nation and the Commonwealth marked such sentiment to a beloved royal figure, who's long life was spent devoted in service to the monarchy, innumerable charities and the self-improvement of young people. Watching the funeral made me well up with glazed eyes, not just out of sadness but in thanks to what opportunities and upstarts this man had given to millions of young people around the world during his lifetime, his most notably legacy living on in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Programme he had formed in 1956 to encourage 16 - 25 year olds to develop life skills, core community values and giving service to others. The renowned 'D of E' just became part of British youth culture as much as GCSE's, Cycling Proficiency and the BCG Injection!

I had met Prince Philip 17 years ago at 21 years old when I myself completed the illustrious Gold 'D of E' Award through Sutton Youth Council and was invited to St James Palace to accept the award (along with my Royal fanatic mum) and other successful Gold participants. Even in his early eighties, the Duke was relaxed and friendly, cracking jokes to the small huddles of people that he floated between around the cavernous room to congratulate us on our marathon achievement. You could tell by his engaging regal presence, he was passionate about improving our well-being and the ripple effect that his award scheme would have on the young people that he encountered and the confidence and experience from the program would lead us later in life. One of which for me was getting involved in tennis coaching and the grass-root cause of me becoming a Tennis For Free community coach volunteer today. I had played tennis since I was 9 and belonged to a tennis club at 14 where I'd had group coaching with the club coach as a junior which was to be the starting point.

To get any level of the Duke of Edinburgh Award (Bronze, Silver and Gold), you had to commit to the challenge and complete all sections of the programme which motivated you to push yourself out of your comfort zone and explore new interests and experiences. If you don't, then well, you don't get it. As the D of E is designed to let you pick your own activities and carve out your own programme, I decided for the Service section of the award to try sports volunteering and asked my coach if I could clock up some hours helping in her junior group classes as a tennis assistant. As soon as you mentioned the magic words 'D of E' it was all hands down and met with excited approval! I have an outgoing, friendly personality, so being allowed the opportunity to help the juniors with their tennis skills and games, proved it was something I was capable of doing and equally satisfying to give service to others whilst gaining new knowledge myself.

It would be after my meeting with The Duke of Edinburgh in 2004 during university that I would get involved with tennis coaching again, becoming a part-time tennis assistant at Sutton Tennis Academy and leading to a chance meeting with 'Tennis For Free' co-founder Tony Hawks who invited me to come and help with his new-born sports charity to offer free tennis coaching to children in the local community. Since 2005, I have volunteered with the Junior Coaching Team as a Community Coach at TFF Joseph Hood Recreation Ground, Morden site, helping to make tennis more accessible to juniors through the free coaching programme. Not only was I able to gain a tennis coaching qualification and meet the one-and-only Judy Murray! but also meet a community of like-minded and good hearted people who share their love of tennis and a common interest to make a positive impact by giving wholesome service to others. The seed of my tennis volunteering experience from the Duke of Edinburgh Award and Tennis For Free has also taken me beyond borders into overseas adventures, travelling to the USA to work as a tennis counsellor in a Girls Summer Camp with CCUSA and a 5-month Tennis Project in Ghana with Sporting Opportunities which led to my own charitable non-profit 'Africa Tennis Aid'.

So when the Covid mist clears and in Prince Philip's legacy, I highly recommend the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and sports volunteering for young people looking for new experiences, building confidence and realising their potential and capabilities far beyond their comfort zone. Tennis For Free coaching is a great opportunity for future Award seekers to complete their Service too, as you never know where that inner seed you plant will take you.

And for His Royal Highness, The Duke of Edinburgh, I owe that to. I don't think there is a greater legacy than that.

Sal Bolton - from Tennis For Free at Joseph Hood Recreation Ground, Morden on Saturdays @10am
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