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A Magazine for Sheffield

Road Tennis: Bajan sport in Sheffield

Road Tennis is a cross between lawn tennis and table tennis. Popular in the Caribbean island of Barbados, we are now playing it right here in Sheffield. Legend has it that Road Tennis was invented in Barbados in the 1930s as the ordinary person's version of lawn tennis. Still under oppressive colonial rule and with significant racial and social inequality, road tennis grew within Barbados' impoverished black communities, who were not able to access exclusive lawn tennis clubs. Necessity meant that the equipment used had to be cheap and easy to get hold of. Bats and nets were simple pieces of wood and balls made from disused tennis balls with the outer fur removed. Courts were marked out on public roads, often in the middle of clusters of houses, providing entertainment and neighbourhood participation. The game has continued to develop, and whilst there is now a professional element to road tennis in Barbados, with big money prizes available, much of the play still happens in shared spaces, embedded within community life. I played road tennis regularly whilst I was living in Barbados. It's addictive and really fun. I also feel that it embodies what sport should be. The equipment needed is pretty minimal and can be made at home. No special shoes or expensive rackets means that it’s accessible to everyone. I also like the way the game is played. As a beginner, you can just pick up a bat. There aren’t any particular skills you have to learn and part of the fun is developing your own techniques as you go along. Unorthodoxy, often stifled in many sports, is king. My husband has recently developed what he calls the Super Serve, an almost un-returnable serve that skids just over the net. I have no idea how he does it. And that's part of the fun - trying out trick shots and different spins and slices. This is a game of craft and cunning, regardless of fitness, gender, age or agility. In fact, rumour has it that road tennis players peak once they're over 40. There aren't too many sports you can say that about. I love the community spirit that drives road tennis and this is something we’re trying to recreate here in Sheffield. Traditionally, the courts are in a public space, with a net left at the side of the court, so anyone can come along and play. The sessions we're running in Meersbrook Park work on a similar principle, trying to make the most out of our great community spaces and providing a way to meet new people. Finally, road tennis is just really fun. You can have crazy rallies that seem to go on forever and silly shots that come out of nowhere. We've had the pleasure of making new friends from lots of different walks of life. I don't think I've laughed so much playing sport before, and that's what sport should be about. We're at Meersbrook Park multi-sports area, 6:30pm to 8pm, every Tuesday night. Come and join us. Everyone is welcome, and it's free. For more information, updates and videos go to: )

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