Claire Overton's Portsmouth Tennis Academy rise has taken her from joining at the age of 10 to becoming the new head coach

She first walked onto a court at Portsmouth Tennis Academy at the age of 10. Now Claire Overton is preparing to embark on her next adventure at the centre after being assigned head coach responsibilities.

Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 2:42 pm
Updated Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 5:03 pm
Claire Overton at the Portsmouth Tennis Academy on Burnaby Road

It's been a long road for the 35-year-old to reach the position she finds herself in but one thing has remained constant throughout - her love for the Academy.

Overton began weekly sessions at the Burnaby Road centre after director of tennis Kevin Baker had visited Solent Junior School where she was a pupil.

Training became more frequent before the Cosham-based coach went full-time at the Academy as a teenager playing, training and working towards gaining a coaching qualification.

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Flashback to 2006 and the Portsmouth Tennis Academy coaching team (from left) of Claire Overton, Dave Watt, Kevin Baker and Andy Ranson. PICTURE: IAN HARGREAVES

It was in her 20s when Overton's focus turned to becoming a teacher on court and she hasn't looked back.

Baker, who spends his time between the UK and America with son Blu a professional player based out of the Gomez Academy in Florida, has seen her rise from pupil to coach in a 25-year span.

Overton's work in helping the PTA junior programme become one of the biggest in the county has not gone unnoticed, and she's proud to have been handed her new role.

‘Kev has just put a bit more responsibility on me which I think I’ve coped well with,' she told The News.

Flashback to 2007. Front (from left): Alice Mitas 6, Cameron Clarke 5, Wilson Neaves 6, Blu Baker 5, Morgan Rixon 4, Thandy Malambo 6, Alex Pugh 6. Back (from left): Oliver Barnes, Kevin Baker, Roger Draper (LTA), Claire Overton PICTURE: PAUL JACOBS

‘I’ve made decisions that have worked, running holiday programmes, sorting out the other coaches - I’ve just had more responsibility.

‘He’s now wanting to step away a little bit and put me in charge but still be around.

‘I just can’t wait for it to get back to some sort of normality and we can try to progress on, which obviously has been difficult.

‘I’m just really excited about it

‘I’ve been given the opportunity to make decisions and put my stamp on it as well as having everyone - a good team - around me.'

Overton has enjoyed numerous trips to America both playing and coaching through the Academy.

It was after a week-long stint at the Evert Tennis Academy as a 16-year-old when she realised tennis was going to be her future.

After returning from the trip in 2002, Overton left Portsmouth College, having spent a year there studying, to go full-time at the academy.

In visits to the States that followed she was able to observe and take some tips from some leading coaches at the Evert Academy.

But it's working so closely with Kevin Baker that has been the biggest influence of her coaching career.

Overton said: 'He’s been with me ever since I started. I’ve learnt so much from him. He’s so passionate about the kids and getting them better, he’s been great to have around.

‘I think on my development it definitely has (great to have Kev around).

‘His high spirits and just his love for the game and getting kids better has definitely paid off on me.

‘When I was younger I did quote a few trips out to the States, just on a coaching basis. I would sit and watch the other coaches working and jot down notes so that was really good as well.

‘The academy that we went to had some top coaches.'

Frustratingly, Overton has been unable to get to work as head coach with the centre currently closed since mid-December due to lockdown.

The former Springfield School pupil admitted it's been an 'difficult period' with the Academy having been forced to pull the shutters down for the third time in less than a year.

Overton works with tots from the age of two-and-a-half right up to 16 as well as adults. She concedes some of those might not return when the centre reopens, but it's about making sure engagement remains high moving forward.

The Academy will reopen next week and plan to run Easter holiday programmes.

And Overton cannot wait to get back to doing what she loves.

‘It’s been incredibly difficult but we’ve bounced back each time we’ve had these breaks,' she added.

Kids just love coming down to us and parents obviously want their kids playing sport.

‘We’re a safe environment for them, the kids are active.

‘It’s just been really difficult for the kids that play 10 hours plus a week to have been so used to doing that, to then stopping and coming back.

‘The frustration of not playing for how long it’s been, then coming back onto court, it’s been difficult for the kids and it’s been difficult for us. It’s just been a really difficult year.

'Hopefully we’ll get them engaged again, I’m sure we will, and hopefully we don’t have to stop.

‘Obviously, with the times we’re in at the moment we just need to see what happens when we go back. Hopefully, a lot of the kids will return - I’m sure they all won’t - so it’s kind of building again and promoting tennis in the community.

'It’s seeing how the first few months go but it’s all about building and getting more kids into sport.'