Home Australia A former tennis pro fighting for better mental health takes the program inside

A former tennis pro fighting for better mental health takes the program inside

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A woman in a sports jersey is standing with her arms crossed looking at the camera with tennis courts behind her

Mental health programs don’t usually come with a racket and tennis ball, but Grand Slam commentator Louise Pleming is changing that.

The positive impact of a chance networking encounter with a homeless man in Sydney sparked an idea for Ms Pleming that led her to form the non-profit group Rally4Ever, which is now expanding into western New South Wales .

She may have 12 International Tennis Federation doubles titles under her belt and has coached elite players like Jelena Dokic, but Pleming said her tennis these days is not about trophies, but about building relationships.

Tennis commentator Louise Pleming is using sport to help improve mental health in country towns.(ABC Western Plains: Catherine James)

“Social connection is really important for mental well-being. It’s number one,” she said.

“Sometimes we may be sitting next to someone and we don’t know how to start a conversation.

“But when you’re on a tennis court, it’s very easy to laugh and it’s very easy to cheer someone up.”

A group of children line up with tennis rackets and balls as they prepare to hit the ball around the court.

Classmates Charles, 11, and Alana, 10, (center) are excited to play more tennis in their hometown.(ABC Western Plains: Catherine James)

Rally4Ever now operates in more than 20 locations across eastern New South Wales, offering free weekly tennis programs to more than 12,000 participants.

Pleming hopes to increase those numbers by moving further west in the state.

A program with meaning

At least 40 children attended the launch of Rally4Ever in Nyngan, one of 11 rural towns where Pleming was with his team of professional coaches last month.

A woman in a black sports jacket smiles at the camera

Mission Australia’s Tara Brookman is delighted with Nyngan’s outback children’s tennis programme.(ABC Western Plains: Catherine James)

Mission Australia support worker Tara Brookman works with homeless children aged 12 to 15, some of whom attended the session.

“Many children struggle to access support systems; they are very disadvantaged in this way,” she said.

“It’s really nice to have a show that really has meaning behind it.

“We have a lot of programs that are just for fun, but we need more programs based on mental health.”

Hopes for an indigenous tennis center

The program is supported by Ian Goolagong, the only Aboriginal person to have played at Wimbledon and brother of former world number one Evonne Goolagong-Cawley.

A man wearing a baseball cap holds a tennis racket against his chest under the lights of a tennis court at night.

Ian Goolagong believes that a program that encourages social connections and trust can have positive mental benefits.(ABC Western Plains: Catherine James)

“It’s a great idea,” Goolagong said after training a group of teenagers in Nyngan.

“The idea is to help mental health.

“There really aren’t many people who go out and do this in different places.”

The 63-year-old worked as a coach with Tennis Australia and the Evonne Goolagong Foundation and said there were plans to create a center for Indigenous tennis players in Condobolin.

A woman and a man in baseball caps stand in front of a crowd of teenagers on a tennis court.

Ian Goolagong has joined Louise Pleming to help launch tennis programs in western New South Wales.(ABC Western Plains: Catherine James)

The town was the first stop for Rally4Ever on its tour of western New South Wales and more than 120 children turned up to play.

Other cities on the two-week tour included Girilambone, Lake Cargelligo, Dubbo, Brewarrina and Walgett.

Local coaches in each city are supported by Rally4Ever head office to continue regular tennis sessions.

Goolagong said those training sessions were often about much more than tennis.

“Ever since I started coaching, I’ve been a counselor because all the kids talk to me about their problems,” he said.

A woman kneeling on the floor holding two small children on either side of her as they all smile at the camera.

Denise O’Malley traveled from Hermidale with her two children, Joseph and Niamh, for the launch.(ABC Western Plains: Catherine James)

Casting a wide net

Ms. Pleming said involving adults is as important as involving children.

“We have to get those adults to love the game again, then it will last longer,” he said.

A three-year-old girl in a straw hat and floral skirt holds a tennis racket and ball while a woman coaches her

Three-year-old Niamh Ward receives encouragement from Rally4Ever coach Sacha in Nyngan.(ABC Western Plains: Catherine James)

Denise O’Malley traveled 45 kilometers to Nyngan from nearby Hermidale with her two children, Joseph, 5, and Niamh, 3, hoping simply to watch them play.

Instead, he ended up on the court in his thong serving the ball to other parents.

“I thought it would just be a series of tips on how to hold your racket and things like that,” Ms. O’Malley said.

“I was coming for the kids to take a look and I had a blast. It’s great in all aspects for mental health to socially connect with the community, have fun and coordinate.”

Women are spread out on a tennis court with rackets

Denise O’Malley (centre) initially thought the Rally4Ever launch in Nyngan was just for her children.(ABC Western Plains: Catherine James)

Pleming said the enthusiasm shows how a simple demonstration can have an impact.

“[Mental health] “It’s not an easy issue, but if everyone does their bit, we create a bigger network and more of a support network, and that’s all we can do.”

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