Living Every Point | The parents behind the players
© Sarah Breakwell
Behind every great athlete is as equally as great a team who help them get to the top.
National Governing bodies, coaches, physiotherapists and sports psychologists they all play their part.
But let’s not forget those other unsung heroes, the ones who cheer on every success, lend a shoulder to cry on when things don’t quite go to plan and live every game, set and match with their tennis player, whether they are competing at grassroots or elite level – the parents, guardians and families.
This week has seen the valuable role parents play in the sporting life of their child celebrated through the NSPCC’s Parents in Sport Week Campaign.
So here at Tennis Threads we thought we would catch up with two of the rising stars of wheelchair tennis, Abbie Breakwell and Alex Chaston, and their parents, to discover what life is really like supporting your child in sport.
The first time Abbie played at the National School Games final I felt sick all morning but I thinks that’s because I know what it means to her. Sarah Breakwell
‘It was great to see she had found a sport she felt at home with’
14-year-old Abbie was introduced to wheelchair tennis at a come and try session when she was a ball girl at 2015 The British Open in Nottingham.
Her mum Sarah Breakwell said: “From the moment she started the session she was beaming and at the end of the session we had to drag her out of the chair and off the court.
“Abbie said for the first time ever she felt at home, nobody stared at her and made comments about her orthotics and she fitted in.
“As a parent it was sad to hear that she had felt she had never fitted in before, but great to see and hear that she had found a sport that she felt at home with.”
And since that first experience Abbie hasn’t stopped and practically lives on the tennis court, when she’s not at school of course.
With her wanting to train five days a week, Abbie’s mum Sarah has clocked up those miles travelling to sessions in Nottingham, Loughborough and Grantham on a weekly basis.
But she is more than willing to give up this time to support Abbie with her ambitions in the sport which she loves dearly.
Coming from a family who would count themselves as sporty, Abbie has always been encouraged to try as many sports as possible by her parents, Sarah and Dave Breakwell.
Sarah said: “We have all done martial arts over the years and in fact that is how Dave and I met – but life gets busy and sports came and went.
“Since Abbie started playing wheelchair tennis though it has helped all of us get involved and to return to sport and the court, whether that is to practice with her or watch her play.”
© Gemma-Louise Stevenson
‘The nerves and emotions are there from start to finish’
Abbie, who competes regularly in the junior division of the national series and has already featured in finals of both The School Games and The British Open junior tournament, hopes to one day represent Great Britain in the World Team Cup, at Wimbledon and the Paralympics.
However, her mum said jokingly: “I have told her that’s not an option as my nerves can’t take it!
“Certainly the first time Abbie played at the National School Games final I felt sick all morning but I thinks that’s because I know what it means to her.”
She continued: “The nerves and emotions are there from start to finish and on crucial points we are willing the ball in the court and of course for Abbie to win but mostly we are just very proud of Abbie,”
However, the most nerve-wracking moment watching Abbie on court for Sarah and Dave didn’t come during a match but whilst training after she had just got her new tennis chair which proved to be a lot faster than her old one and saw her channel her inner Darcey Bussell.
Sarah said: “She nearly gave everyone a heart attack, along with herself!
“While racing against her team mates she turned her wheelchair so fast that it went up on to one wheel and she pirouetted three and a half turns before getting it back on two wheels, during which time there was an audible gasp around the room then silence until she stopped.
“This was followed by a WOW from Abbie and a please don’t do that again from us and the coach.”
© Sarah Breakwell
“The proudest moment for me was the first time I saw Alex in that GB uniform.”
Like Abbie, Alex is 14-years-old and has been playing tennis for two years.
His tennis talent was first discovered at a Time to Shine event and he has gone on to represent Team GB in the junior division of the World Team Cup.
His mum Michelle Philp, who alongside supporting Alex’s tennis is also doing a degree at the Open University said: “It was love at first try – when the coach approached me to say he was talented and had a lot of potential I nearly burst with pride.
“The proudest moment for me so far has been the first time I saw Alex in his GB uniform – I’m not ashamed to say I shed a few tears.
“I am shocked at the speed with which Alex’s career has taken off and when he started playing two years ago, I never dreamed he’d be representing GB so quickly.
“I knew it was his ambition and that he wouldn’t quit until he’d achieved it but when I got the call saying he’d been picked, I couldn’t quite take it in.”
Alex is one of the three children and like him his two brothers are into their sport – his older brother Luke is into watersports and a qualified coach in paddlesports, whilst his younger brother Lance enjoys football and basketball.
And Michelle has always encouraged all three of them to try a wide range of sports before following their favourite despite saying she doesn’t think they get their sporty genes from her.
She said: “ I was always rubbish at P.E. and the last one picked for team games.
“I think they get a lot from their late grandad, Steven Chaston, as he was always into his sport, especially football.
“But I’ve always encouraged them to do things they enjoy and they have all gone in different sporting directions.”
© Gemma-Louise Stevenson
“He respects his opponent and plays with integrity and that means more than anything to me’
Michelle goes through every emotion on the spectrum when she watches Alex play.
She said: “Elation when he plays a great shot, frustration when he double faults, but most of all pride, not only in how well he plays but also his sportsmanship.
“Whether he wins or loses he respects his opponent and plays with integrity and that means more than anything to me.”
And for Michelle there is one famous sporting parent who she looks up to in particular – Judy Murray.
Michelle said: “I admire her so much, not only for what she’s done for her own boys, but also for what she’s done and still continues to do to bring tennis to everyone and to promote equality in the sport.
“She’s just an amazing woman.”
And just as amazing as Judy Murray’s influence on her, according to Michelle, is the support she herself has received as a parent from the sports national governing body, the Tennis Foundation, to help her with Alex’s transition onto the talent pathway.
She said: “I came into this knowing absolutely zero about tennis – I mean I really knew nothing, not even how it was scored!
“I had no idea about the talent pathway or what I should be doing to help Alex but the team at the Tennis Foundation are always there to answer any questions I may have and give me advice – they really have been brilliant.”
© Gemma-Louise Stevenson
Thankful for the support
It is clear both Abbie and Alex appreciate the support and hard work their parents put in to help them realise their potential.
Alex said: “My mum’s support helps to keep me calm and focused and I like that she cheers for all of the players not just me.
And he hasn’t failed to notice that without mum’s taxi service he wouldn’t be where he is now.
He continued: “I appreciate that without her driving me I wouldn’t be able to go to any of the tournaments or training sessions.” – of which there are many he has to attend each week.
And Abbie looks forward to one moment in particular that she can share with her mum and dad when they are sitting court side during a match.
She said: “Sometimes if I hit a particularly bad shot I won’t look at them as I know exactly what they are thinking.
“But it’s the first place I look when I win as I know they are living every point with me and I want to share that moment with them and to see the big smile on their faces, knowing also that my dad will be in tears again.”