I dedicate a large part of my work and life to the cause of female development, and to carrying on the fantastic work that the charity my wife Elena Baltacha-Severino devoted herself to.
Bally wanted to do as much as she possibly could to help young girls, and throughout the early years of the Foundation she focused hard on supporting young girls from deprived areas. It was a privilege to be beside her every step of the way.
A big part of my life now is focused on carrying on her important work, and to doing everything I can to keep to the plan she left me. As well as the obvious, which of course is tennis, Elena wanted her girls to develop good self-esteem, confidence and strong self-perception. When she launched the Academy, she talked to me about body image, and how she struggled with it herself as a young girl. She was passionate about doing all she could to make sure that the girls in her Academy were equipped to deal with this aspect of their lives. Above all, she wanted her girls to blossom through sport into proud young women.
I have had the extraordinary privilege of not only having one great sporting woman in my life, but two. The other amazing woman is Judy Murray. Elena and Judy both felt strongly about promoting the welfare and development of young girls. The two women were very close and I know that Elena loved her very much. Elena asked Judy if she would become the patron of our Foundation, and she agreed without hesitation. Judy worked tirelessly for us, and since me and Elena were parted, this has not changed.
For me, Judy is an inspiration. Forget the fact that she is the mother of two world number one tennis players, Jamie and Andy Murray, which is in itself something of a minor miracle. The aspect of her life that I’m most in awe of is her commitment and the amount of work that she invests in developing girls and women through sport, specifically through the programmes that she has designed, Miss Hits, She Rallies and also the massively successful Tennis on the Road programme, which gives parents, coaches, teachers and volunteers the tools needed to get kids active and to help further kick-start and develop tennis in Scotland.
I’ve attended some of the sessions that Judy delivers all over Scotland, with her devoted team, and of course the one and only Kris Soutar.
The Miss Hits programme is an amazing experience for young girls, and its mission is to encourage more girls to play tennis. Miss-Hits was created to try and introduce girls who’ve never played tennis before to the sport, in a non-forceful introductory programme where they can learn all the basics. It’s being embraced by schools, community halls and sports centres, as well as tennis clubs. By the end of the programme, the girls will be ready to join their local mini tennis programme with confidence and enthusiasm.
You would think that guiding two of her children to world number one status, and launching two successful tennis programmes would be more than enough, but for those who know Judy well, there is always something more to come. She has just launched the inspiring She Rallies initiative, which aims to both empower women in tennis and increase the number of women and girls who are coaching and playing tennis across the UK.
“There is still a significant gender gap in terms of players and coaches at all levels of the game. By rallying together, we can create opportunities in tennis from the grassroots up. Whether you’re an existing tennis coach, teacher, parent, student, youth worker, brownie leader or an enthusiastic club member, I have designed 4 courses as part of ‘She Rallies‘, supported by The LTA, which will give you the skills and ideas to deliver starter training and fun competition to girls and women in your community. If we rally together – pun intended – we will make a difference.”
We took our female coaches and young assistants along to a session at the NTC, where they were inspired by Judy. They learned important skills and brought them back to our Foundation where they can be used to help develop the next generation of female players, assistants and coaches.
My wife Elena loved and respected Judy. She always used to say that Judy was like a second mother to her, and it meant a lot to me that Judy once said if she would have had a daughter, she would have wanted her to be Elena.
As I said, I have been privileged to have had these two such inspirational, incredible women in my life. There is no way I could ever match what they have achieved or how they affect others in everything they do and did but every day I’m inspired by both women to do my little bit, and to enjoy the time I spend with our Foundation team and our girls.
Nino Severino – Learn Play Grow Founder