Tennis BC has recognized local tennis coach Charlotte Willis for her work with supporting tennis within the Elk Valley. On Sept. 22, she was awarded with Community Coach of the Year for her grassroots efforts in promoting tennis throughout the Elk Valley.
While happy to be recognized, Willis is more pleased to bring the sport to kids and families that may not have been exposed to it before.
“You can enjoy tennis at any level and you can get something out of it whether its fitness, enjoyment, social, whatever you like. That’s is what is great about it,” Willis said in an interview with The Free Press. “And when you get better at it, you enjoy other elements of it.”
Willis was also recognized by Tennis Canada in the summer for her continuing work to promote tennis in the Elk Valley, an area that didn’t have many tennis programs for children prior to her work.
“I got as many kids as I could involved in tennis and to enjoy tennis and enhancing their skills,” she said of her work.
Originally from the United Kingdom, Willis came to Fernie five years ago, and started Fernie Tennis Coaching in 2012, which runs tennis programs for kids throughout the summer.
“I run pretty much a full program all the way from spring through to fall. We do sometimes run winter programs as well. We do everything from after school groups to groups during the day,” she said, adding that she offers programs for kids aged three to 14.
“Every year I’m trying to add things, taking away things, trying to make sure the program is useful the whole way through.”
Willis noted that children in Fernie have taken to tennis easily and credits their exposure to all types of sport for that ability.
“I think because the kids are so exposed here to sport that they take to it so quickly. Having taught at the elementary school here, we took a program that Tennis Canada had written, we looked at it, and said that these kids are way ahead of everything in this booklet,” said Willis. After the initial introductory practices, some kids are ready for match play and to compete.
Willis’ dream is to have an indoor tennis centre in Fernie to support the sport year round, but for now, she plans to continue her coaching program, expanding it to offer more competitive programs.
“Because tennis is kind of exploding a little bit in Fernie, we are actually at the point of collaborating with Cranbrook, Kimberley and Sparwood,” she said.
“The kids here are ready for basic level competition. They are ready to go onto a bit of a circuit,” said Willis. “There is already the desire there, which is sort of what you want. You want them to initiate it rather than for you to force it on them. It shows they are ready.”
Willis has plans to travel to Toronto for a tennis conference in November, and will pick up both of her awards there. The conference is aimed at building tennis initiatives in smaller communities for both youth and adult programs.