Tommy Herbert has been playing tennis since he was six years old. Now at just 14, Tommy is playing tournaments all over the country. Here, we talk to him and his mum Nicola about the challenges of balancing tennis and schoolwork, and the Red2Blue techniques he uses to keep him calm on the court.
Tommy and Nicola credit his first coach, Jo Trataris, who coached Tommy from the age of six until recently, for inspiring his passion for tennis. “Jo always thought Tommy had that little bit extra – a great flair for the sport right from the word go.” Nicola says. “It was her enthusiasm and motivation that gave him the love of the sport. There’s a lot to be said for coaches who are really good and have a passion for their sport.”
Realising his potential
It wasn’t long before Tommy started to realise that tennis could potentially be a career. “As I developed over the years and my rankings got better, I started to take it more seriously,” he says. Plenty of people in Tommy’s life could see that he had great potential from a young age from his coaches to his parents, and it soon became clear that this could be more than just a childhood dream.
“Tommy’s dad, Mark, and I have always supported Tommy – not just on the competition field but in training.” That meant a lot of time outside with Tommy training whatever the weather! “Tommy didn’t start indoor training until he was about 11 or 12 so he’s always been a fair-weather player battling the elements,” says Nicola.
Finding the right balance
Tommy has grown up around sport so it’s perhaps not surprising that he is so driven. Nicola’s parents are keen sportspeople who have always played tennis. Nicola began swimming at a young age and trained to quite a high level. “Swimming’s a very disciplined sport so I feel I’ve built that into me. I know what it takes to become good at something,” she says. Mark, Tommy’s Dad, is also a sportsman who played squash at county level and is a good golfer. It was clear from an early age that Tommy had inherited that talent with a ball.
The Red2Blue connection
As a mum, one of the biggest challenges for Nicola has been finding the right balance for Tommy between tennis, schoolwork and all the other commitments and activities that are a normal part of childhood. “When you can see your child has potential at a given skill – whether it’s sport, music or anything else – you have to decide in the early years, where are we going with this?” she says. Now Tommy’s a bit older, he can start making some of those decisions himself,” Nicola says. “He has to decide where he’s going. What does he want to do? How far does he want to go?”
It was through Mark’s golfing – a connection with Red2Blue ambassador Immy Williamson’s dad – that Tommy came to discover Red2Blue. Immy, who is slightly older than Tommy and therefore slightly further on in her sports journey, was using Red2Blue not only to help her perform under pressure, but also to cope with the challenges of balancing golf with her academic and social commitments.
Adapting the Red2Blue technique
Tommy now uses Red2Blue to keep his cool when things aren’t going to plan. “It helps to calm me down when I’m frustrated,” he says. “It’s taught me several techniques. I use the Zoom out and Zoom in tool, and I’ve also created my own technique, where I re-adjust my strings to re-focus my attention for the next point.”
Nicola observes how Red2Blue can be taken off the tennis court and into day-to-day life: “Red2Blue can benefit you in many ways. I can see how it can be adapted to be used when you’re just about to sit an exam paper or in an interview situation. It can be used to calm you down whenever you’re feeling slightly uptight about things,” she says.
Counteracting trigger points
She explains how Tommy uses it in his tournament play to counteract certain trigger points that arise during a competitive match. “There are definitely those points where he’s on the edge, and you wonder which way it’s going to turn. Is he in the Red or is he in the Blue? It’s a fine balance.” Since Tommy’s been using Red2Blue, Nicola says she can now see the difference in his attitude, his demeanour, his body language and his processing of the competitive game.
Tommy has a gruelling schedule often training for up to four hours a day, and while his school does allow him to take time off for tournaments, he sometimes finds himself having to do catch up work in the car, at lunchtime, or in between training.
“It’s always important to have a couple of rest days in the week where Tommy doesn’t touch a tennis racquet and or a tennis ball, “says Nicola. “He might be watching it on the television, but that rest day is very important to physically just come out of it.”
That said, when it comes to down time, rather than stepping away from tennis, Tommy finds it relaxing to play in the back garden with his brother just knocking the ball around.
Follow your dreams
One of Tommy’s most memorable moments has been playing with the professional tennis player Liam Brody. Liam gave Tommy some very good advice that has stuck with him: “Be brave and hit it!”
Nicola also remembers a sage piece of advice she got from one of her primary school teachers when she was starting to improve her swimming at seven or eight years old. “This teacher was leaving my school and I can remember his parting comment to me because he knew that I swam. It was very simple, but I’ve never ever forgotten it. He said, ‘Follow your dreams. Never give up.’ I’ve remembered that to this day.”
Just as that remark gave Nicola the motivation to pursue her swimming and try her very best, she’s clearly instilling the same sort of confidence in Tommy. His goal for the year ahead is to improve his ranking in Great Britain with the help of his new coach, Stuart Twigg, Martin here at Red2Blue, the team of coaches at his new academy, and of course his Mum and Dad.
With this dedicated dream team to support him, we’re sure it won’t be long before we see Tommy following in the footsteps of his hero Roger Federer. Take your mum’s advice, Tommy: follow your dreams, never give up!