The Learn Play Grow story – Elena, kids and Danny the Dog

There are many, many reasons why I miss Elena every second of the day, but one of the main reason is the love we both had for the time we always spent with the children, both at our Foundation and the Learn Play Grow programmes based in Ipswich.

It was this passion that motivated Elena and I to develop a programme that could have a much wider reach and affect children nationally.

Bally with Tawana and Daniel
When I think back, it’s quite amazing how the Learn Play Grow concept was born, we came up with the methods and principles as we travelled around the world on the WTA World Tour, in airports, over breakfast, lunch or dinner in the hotels or during rest times around training sessions. We would continually talk about all the components that we thought were needed in a children’s development programme.

Bally and Nino spending time with their Foundation girls

The great thing about this whole process is that we had masses of experience of working with children, it’s not like we were guessing, or imagining what could be valuable. It was incredible that Elena, as a World class tennis player and athlete, committed her spare time to the Foundation and Learn Play Grow when she was back in the UK.

I think it is very fair to say, that there would be very few high profile professional tennis players or athletes who would do this. Elena never wanted me to mention this, but she would often have a training session in the morning, visit a school afterwards, then bank a second training session and coach children in the afternoon.  She was an incredible woman, who through her love for children, gave so very much without a moan or a groan, and I am proud to write this for anyone who cares to read this blog.

Bally always had time for kids after her training
We knew our programme need to cover kids’ physical development, but we also talked about their emotional development. We sometimes assume that all children arrive at school from a warm, loving and comfortable home, unfortunately this is not the case. Elena and I had first-hand knowledge of this because for the first few years after we first launched the foundation we only worked with schools in deprived areas, and some in extremely deprived areas.

Some of the families that our children were part of struggled massively in terms of their living standards and the situations they found themselves in. We knew that when some of our little children turned up for a session, this was a release for them, an opportunity to escape some of the hardships of day to day life.

We wanted our programme to have a facet that could let the children’s little minds enter a world of friendship, happiness and positive imagination, so we created the Learn Play Grow character family. We wanted the characters to feel like friends who could tell happy and positive stories and help young minds to think happy thoughts. I remember when our first character costume – Danny the Dog – turned up to the office with a smile on my face – Elena was the first to pull it out of the box, she had a great sense of humour, and never took herself too seriously; she made the whole team laugh by trying it on.

Danny the Dog in action!

Danny the Dog now attends sessions, events and Learn Play Grow parties all over the UK.

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