Jono's Return: He waka eke noa We’re all in this together!

When an Opportunity Presents Itself

Jono Spring · 31 March 2022

For over 35 years, I have been involved in tennis, in one way, shape or form. It all began with ‘padder tennis’ during my primary school years, at the tender age of nine years old. Little wooden bats, some with only half a handle or broken pieces off the face of the bat. Did I love it? You bet I did.

Did many of the other children? Yep, most of them did too.

Did we have a coach? No, we did not.

Was someone organising us? No not really… I think a teacher would put the nets up, and then told us where to find the bats and balls in the sports shed.

That was about the extent of it.

This is where my love affair with tennis all began. One day, soon after, I found an old aluminium tennis racquet in the shed at home that was held together by a nut and bolt, and I took that to school to use instead. I was amazed by how much harder it could hit the tennis ball, and all the different things I could now do to it.

Why did I start with this story? Simply because I wanted to demonstrate that by doing something so innocent as providing some equipment for a group of school kids to use during their morning tea and lunchtimes, you can enable the opportunity of an enthusiast of tennis for life. Here I am, over 35 years later, and I have served just about every position within the sport of tennis, from a player, coach, manager, committee member, board member, Development Officer, Association Chairperson, and the list goes on…

If I had to put this all into one statement, it would be this “if you provide for a group of people, you will see limitless opportunity created.

I would not have been all the things that I have been in this sport if it hadn’t have been for the one teacher who decided to put up those nets, and make sure there were bats and balls to use.

In 2018 I wrote an article for Stuff that was titled “Tennis Faces it’s Challenges, So Everyone Must Act.” I have had a lot of feedback from this particular article over the years since it was published. I feel like it really struck a nerve for those who are involved in the sport, and simply want to see it flourish the way that it once did.

For something to flourish, it requires us taking up what is offered. I am living proof. If I never took advantage of the opportunities provided for me, I wouldn’t have had the career that I did, one full of satisfaction, personal and professional rewards, and ultimately relationships that would last a lifetime.

Because of my past experiences, I have now become an advocate of making the most of what ever opportunities are provided.

Let’s apply this to everyone involved in tennis in this wonderful country

When compared to other countries around the world, to coin a Fred Dagg song title… “We don’t know how lucky we are." Tennis is accessible, affordable, and our climate provides ample enjoyable playing opportunities. It is not elitist, and there are courts, whether they be public or club provided, dotted all the way throughout the entire country.

In my early years of tennis, I admittedly didn’t have much of a relationship with Tennis NZ, and in fact my perception of them was more inclined to see them as the ‘police’ of tennis in New Zealand as opposed to anything else. Ready to pull either myself, or the Association up for any possible indiscretions, and essentially to tell us what to do while taking our money to do so.

In my final five years of my coaching career, I decided to change that. I don’t remember how or why, but it was the one of the most important and unnecessarily delayed decisions of my entire tennis career.

For three quarters of my professional coaching and administration time frame, I had neglected to do what I had done in the very beginning of my tennis journey, and make the most of the opportunities that had been presented to me. If I could have my time over again, this is one thing that I would have done differently.

Tennis New Zealand have provided many initiatives in order to help grow the sport over the years, and they have a team of administration staff that work tirelessly, sometimes around the clock, in order to provide the support that they do for clubs and associations. I wouldn’t know this, unless I had seen it with my own eyes…

To be able to share the story and for people to have the chance to learn from my experience, is what has driven me to become a vessel for the opportunities and initiatives that are both currently on offer and those that will soon be.

The Modernising Tennis Plan has been the term used to describe the direction that Tennis NZ would endeavour to see the sport heading.

What it means can be best explained in two ways

One, a national governing body putting thought and plans into place after much consultation with it members, partners and directors, in order to help grow and promote the sport for the safety, accessibility and enjoyment of all.

Two, simply refer to explanation one.

There are ‘no two ways about it’, we have a governing body who are tackling all of the areas of concern in our sport and finding a way to encourage the tennis playing and administration masses to make the most of the opportunities provided as a result.

What does it look like?

 3 balls screenshot copy

A Safe Tennis List and Coach Register, to ensure confidence to those who are trusting the safety and security of those who a dearest to them with another person.

Club Spark and Book a Court, to enable the continual and convenient access to tennis clubs across New Zealand for all, while providing club administrators with a programme that promotes communication and effective facility management for members and users.

World Tennis Number, inclusion into a grading system used widely across the world that allows grading comparisons from more than 100 countries and registered entities. This one I am particularly excited about!

These are just three of the core instruments that are either in place or are coming into play this year. I will be writing about these initiatives and many others over the coming weeks and report the impact that they either have, or will have, on everyday Kiwis like myself.

What better way to understand the benefit of taking advantage of all that is put in front of you, than to hear why from the person standing beside you…He waka eke noa – We’re all in this together! 

-Jono Spring

Jono is a Manawatu based (former) coach, player and administrator who has been involved in tennis for over 35 years and held nearly every role you can think of in our game. Over the next couple of months Jono will be sharing his perspective, and those of people in the tennis community across New Zealand on why working together and striving to modernize the way we deliver tennis is so important. He contributes popular articles for the Manawatu Standard and Stuff on tennis, known as Jono’s Serve…keeping with the theme, his new series of articles are now called Jono's Return!