Melbourne VIC, Australia, 1 June 2017 | Todd Woodbridge

Australian tennis legend Todd Woodbridge shares his blog as he travels across Australia delivering racquets to primary school students as part of the ANZ Tennis Hot Shots Racquet Roadshow…

I’ve had a wonderful few weeks travelling around Australia to celebrate an incredible milestone – 80,000 racquets delivered to primary school students over the past two years, all thanks to ANZ.

As part of the celebration we’ve hit the road with the ANZ Tennis Hot Shots Racquets Roadshow and now we are halfway through our five-week tour it’s a good opportunity to reflect on what we’ve done, where we’ve been and why it’s so important to inspire children to get involved in a great sport like tennis.

In the past three weeks, I’ve visited 22 schools across three different states, handed out more than 1500 racquets and met approximately 5000 enthusiastic kids, their teachers and coaches.

It’s been a while since I’ve spent much time in a school environment and I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity. It’s been a lot of fun, rewarding and a pleasure to meet so many hard-working teachers.

I’ve learnt how to keep the young audience engaged and interested and wanting to participate in our sport. Most of the kids have no idea about my playing career so to help them understand I’ve brought along some props, such as my 1993 Wimbledon and Davis Cup trophies as well as my Olympic gold and silver medals to make the chat interactive. It prompts questions about my journey, how I got there, and what it’s really like on the pro tour… I’ve really enjoyed this interaction.

ANZ Tennis Hot Shots is the program we deliver in schools and uses modified equipment which makes it easy for the kids to play from the word go. It’s a lot of fun for everyone – the kids, teachers and parents.

Many of these kids would not have had the chance to own a racquet or learn to play tennis, and I can’t speak highly enough about this initiative. It’s been a massive success, and as tennis is a sport for life, it really helps to get kids active, develop healthy habits and have some fun along the way. We see reports every day about childhood obesity and lack of activity amongst our kids becoming an increasing problem, and tennis can make a big difference.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed visiting the schools involved in the program and hopefully helped the kids and teachers learn more about tennis, and inspire them to keep playing.

When I started playing, racquets were full size and heavy and the ball would bounce over my head – it was pretty challenging to get a rally going. And you needed to go to a tennis club or find a court somewhere to participate. This program can be set up anywhere – on the school oval, in a car park – wherever there’s a bit of space. The portable nets define the court and the low compression balls and modified smaller racquets mean the kids can rally from the word go, which makes it more fun for them. It’s also easy for classroom teachers and even parents to deliver if schools don’t have dedicated physical education teachers.

Seeing the kids’ eyes light up when they receive their racquets has been the major highlight of the trip, as has the opportunity to see places around Australia that I’ve never been before, such as Yarrawonga and Euroa in Victoria. And it’s also been a treat to revisit towns where I played junior tournaments, such as Wagga Wagga and Albury, and find the memories come flooding back.

But I think the biggest takeaway from the past few weeks has been the reaction from the teachers and local coaches. It’s incredibly gratifying to hear that in terms of curriculum, values and content, tennis is the best and easiest sports program they run, and also how much they’ve enjoyed implementing it.

It’s also been great to see the local tennis clubs and coaches benefit from the school’s program, with many kids going on to join coaching programs with their friends outside school. The more kids we have participating in tennis, the more chance we have to develop the next generation of champions. And just as importantly, get kids off the couch and away from the screen into a sport they can enjoy and play for their whole life.

Thanks very much to all the schools – so far I’ve been to Bacchus Marsh, Sunbury, Wagga Wagga, Albury, Yarrawonga, Euroa, Sydney, Wollongong, Adelaide, Brighton, Stirling, Sheidow Park, Coomera Rivers, Mount Cotton State and Calamvale Special School.

Over the next couple of weeks, the ANZ Racquet Roadshow continues through Queensland, ACT and Tasmania, and we’re planning visits to the Northern Territory and Western Australia later this year.

I look forward to another update at the end of the roadshow.