Sydney, Australia, 20 September 2020 | Leigh Rogers

Louise Pleming is one of Australia’s top high performance coaches and a respected commentator. A former professional player herself, she is well aware of the physical benefits of tennis.

A chance meeting four years ago, while volunteering at a kitchen for homeless people in Sydney, made her appreciate that the sport has the power to transform lives in other ways too.

“A gentleman by the name of Brian approached me and said: ‘I know who you are, would you play tennis with me?'” Pleming explains.

“So a week later I met Brian, who had been living on the streets for quite a few years, and we played tennis. I saw an incredible shift in his mentality through the benefits of playing tennis and having that human connection. It’s been a relationship that has grown and I continue to play tennis with him.”

This experience inspired Pleming to create Rally4Ever, a foundation that encourages greater community connection through physical activity.

At a base in Sydney’s Rushcutters Bay area, the organisation offers free tennis and fitness classes to homeless and disadvantaged community members. Rally4Ever is now also offering online classes, inspired by the need to lift wider community spirits among the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Pleming, the ability to make a difference is heart-warming.

“All my life I’ve felt really lucky that I’ve played tennis and it has given me so many opportunities. I’ve done so many different things within the sport,” she says.

“Coaching at a high performance level, the biggest reward for me was to see athletes grow to become great tennis players and also great human beings.

“When you get on court with someone who is homeless, you can see a shift in a different way. Their self-esteem grows. You really are changing someone’s life and helping them.

“Personally, it’s been such an interesting journey. I used to be that person who would just walk past homeless people at a train station and didn’t understand what they were going through. Now through what I’ve been doing, I’ve had an unbelievable insight into their needs and challenges.”

Pleming is thrilled with the widespread support the organisation is receiving from local councils, companies and tennis clubs. She is especially proud many of the players she has worked with in the past have offered to help too.

“It’s been amazing. So many of our young players all across Australia have reached out and said ‘Lou, how can we help?'” she says.

“It’s really great to see as a tennis coach you can impart some of your values onto players.”

In recent months, Pleming has been working closely with Jessica Moore, who achieved a career-high doubles ranking of No.52 last year, and Alexandra Osborne, a 25-year-old professional player from Sydney.

“Jess has just retired and wants to really give back to the sport. Alex is just starting her time on the tour and has had time in Australia because of COVID, so is happy to give back too,” Pleming says.

“They have been amazing. Together we have been going out and building brand awareness. We’ve been going to clubs to play with people and talk about Rally4Ever, just getting people excited and engaged. The uptake has been incredible.”

Passionate about creating access for everyone in the community to feel connected and enjoy physical activity, Pleming has big dreams for the organisation’s future.

“We really want to grow this all around the country,” she says.

“We are now trying to set up more and more opportunities and facilities. We will need to do some fundraising and we are looking for more volunteers who are like-minded and want to give back. Eventually once we get the commercial side really going, we want to contribute back to society as well.”

Having already seen the impact the organisation can have, Pleming is determined to keep transforming lives of disadvantaged people.

“Tennis is such an amazing sport. It really is a sport for life,” she says.

“This has grown from a small idea from one person and the change I saw Brian having, which motivated me to say we can certainly help more people. That’s our vision – to keep inspiring people.”

> Visit the Rally4Ever website to find classes or register your interest to help