Valerie Copenhagen from Ruislip in Greater London has always enjoyed tennis. But two years ago her passion for the sport grew stronger. In her own words, Valerie discusses how important it is to her that her coach is deaf aware and the benefits of being active.
I started playing tennis socially at the local club in my area when I was 13 and really enjoyed it and made some really good friends who I am still in touch with now. I continued to play throughout the years and when I returned from University, I re-joined the local club and played summer and winter league matches which I enjoyed.
However, my passion and drive for tennis has really only come about the last couple of years since moving to a different club and feeling that with hard work, commitment and dedication that anything is possible and goals can be achieved.
I love playing tennis for lots of reasons but it also helps having such lovely, committed and supportive people at my new club that support me and my goals.
Two years ago I went along to a Deaf talent identification day and it was the best decision I made as I was then invited to join the GB squad and I’ve never looked back.
I love everything about the game. I love how it makes my head go fuzzy from thinking too much about the strategies and skills to the singles and doubles games.
I love how even at my age, there is so much to learn, develop and get better on. We never stop learning and I really like that part of tennis. I also enjoy the matches and competitions, though I still do get nervous beforehand but I’m getting better with that.
My coach has been so supportive over the past two years and really encouraging which really helps and makes a big difference. I really like the feeling of working and giving at least 110% where possible to make sure I know I’ve done the best I can, particularly when it comes to fitness on court.
I also enjoy watching YouTube clips of tennis players like Heather Watson, Maria Sharapova and Martina Hingis – learning about what makes them great tennis players and the amazing, clever shots they play.
Lastly – I have really enjoyed my experience being on the squad and meeting other deaf people. They are such lovely people and it is nice to be a part of the team working hard to make sure we do well not just for ourselves but for our country.
When I joined the squad two years ago I was four stones heavier and I knew that if I really wanted to stay on the team, I would need to lose that weight and get fitter. I’m getting better, fitter and stronger every week but it is something that I continue to work on.
I worried about whether my coach would be deaf aware and be able to remember that when we are in a session. It is very hard to hear instructions or feedback when you are outside and the wind is strong and there is so much to learn in tennis and processes to get right. I have very good speech and with my hair down, people don’t realise because I am a very good lip reader so this can sometimes make it more challenging to explain to people about the approach I need in tennis.
My biggest success was the opportunity to represent GB at the World Deaf Championships in Nottingham. As I mentioned before, my experiences of deaf tennis have really only been in the last two years and it was such an amazing experience to go and play in the Championships.
I was so nervous and didn’t really know what to expect. I managed to get through to the second round coming up against World number one lady German player which I lost but learned a great deal from playing against her and watching back the clips.
I came home more driven and committed to making sure I do well and that I get better and do well in the next tournament.
Last February I suddenly lost my father and it was really hard to get on with things. I remember throwing myself into training and tennis sessions with my coach and it really helped me get by. Tennis at that stage of my life really helped me keep my life on track and stay focused.
I have developed such good friendships through tennis and also a better understanding and appreciation to the game. When I watch tennis on TV I can look at a rally or a particular shot and understand the mechanics and processes behind that and have more admiration and praise for the players.
I’ve met some amazing and inspirational people along the way and I really strongly believe in the ethos of the Tennis Foundation, what the charity and its employees strive to work towards.
I am looking to do my Level 1 coaching course and hope I can not only help with the children’s sessions at my local club but also can inspire other deaf young people to take up the sport and get as much out of it as I have.
I would love to stay on the squad for as long as possible and have continued opportunities to represent my country, including if the opportunity arose to compete in the Deaflympics in 2017. I know it will be hard work but I’m prepared and ready…so bring it on!
So, what would Valerie say to someone thinking about taking up tennis?
Do it! Whether you want to play in your local park or play for your country it is so much fun! You get to meet new people, get fit and also have a good time.
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