Decline in Tennis Participation Among Young Athletes: Unveiling the Challenges, Solutions

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By: Alieu Ceesay

Musa Keita returned to the tennis court for another training session in his signature all-blue attire, fueled by the dream of becoming a professional tennis player like his idol, 36-year-old Novak Djokovic.

However, Musa’s aspirations are slowly diminishing due to challenges young athletes face in Gambian tennis courts – a lack of facilities, support, encouragement, and competitive payment.

“The only time we have payment for tennis is when we play with guests (tourists). We charge them D600 per hour.” Musa Keita told TAT.

He is now training in plumbing as his source of income because tennis cannot settle his bill.

“lack of payment is really affecting my career as a tennis player; if there is a payment in tennis, I can be number one in the Gambia.”

Keita has already lost hope in tennis games in the Gambia but hopes things will improve.

Bailo Barry, a promising young tennis player, began his journey in the sport during childhood, driven by passion and peer influence. However, he acknowledged the importance of payment and better facilities in enhancing the game.

Despite facing discouragement from others, who questioned his dedication to a sport with minimal financial incentives.

“Sometimes, when coming to training, some will ask me why I am still playing this game while knowing there is no payment. Is it that I don’t want better things. Some really discourage me a lot about the game, but I still continue practicing the game.” Bailow lamented some of the challenging factors he is facing.

Babucarr Gassama, a former tennis player who played the game at national and international levels, said the game connected him to different people worldwide. He stopped tennis due to education and lack of support from the authorities.

“I was playing and at the same time going to University, but at some stage I realized that these people (authorities) were using us because there was a time that we went to the office (tennis office) then I noticed that there have been invitations sent to us from Germany, United States, but we never attended because they have to spend money and they (tennis authorities) never want to spend, and from there I knew that they are not paying subscription fee then I know that they are wasting my time.
Sometimes, at the international tournaments, even those who performed better than others were paid in dollars while we were paid just D1,500 as pocket money, so from there, I realized that if I focus on my studies, I can get better opportunities.” the former player said.

He urged current active players to take tennis games with education seriousness.

Fatou Joof, a former tennis player, now a chalk holder, said she is quick in the game due to a lack of encouragement and competition. “The motivation wasn’t there, no competition. I trained no competition for all year, so it’s boring.”

Babucarr and Fatou have set new goals; Gassama is now a youth leader, and Madam Joof is a class teacher.

Alagie K Drammeh, a tennis coach, said the game in the Gambia needs more support and facilities. “Some players cannot train for the needed time to be trained as good tennis players because of lack of court facilities; if we have enough courts, we can produce enough talented stars.” Coach Drammeh said.

Lamin Drammeh, a former player now a trainer, said the absence of proper facilities remains a nightmare for many young athletes.

“Proper facilities are very important in the game to avoid injuries. For example, if the surface is bad, you can easily be injured, and the overall performance declines; if you are injured, the time you’re off from training will take you down in physical and mental performance. On a note, these (facilities) are very important areas In promoting the game of tennis in the Gambia.”

When TAT visited the tennis court at the stadium in Bakau, we found others on the bench waiting for the other set. That is a clear manifestation of the lack of facilities in the Gambia.

After three years of suspension by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) for “not paying subscription due,” Ousanou Jatta, the Treasurer of the Gambia Tennis Association, revealed some of the plans in the pipeline to restore dreams in the game, “there’s communication between us and ITF so that they reinstate us to be a member so that we can have a competition going on also have an ample land where we can have six to seven courts to play, but the association does not have money to build courts. We really need help to build a court for players to play.”

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