Roger Draper – CEO, LTA – Exclusive Featured Profile with iSportconnect

June 13, 2011

Roger Draper, CEO of the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), has taken part in an exclusive Featured Profile interview with iSportconnect.

Draper spoke of how his experiences as an athlete prior to his career in sports business had helped him due to the transferable skills in both, adding: “In both, you need to focus unrelentingly on a simple vision. You need to excel in planning, and seize the opportunity. Both also require world class execution.”

During his time at the LTA, Roger admitted that the “pace of improvement” in terms of British men’s tennis had been slow”, aside from world number 4 Andy Murray, and added that he “shared people’s frustration about that.” Draper said that turning around the fortunes of the sport in Britain was “something that we have struggled with for generations” but claimed that they were hoping to achieve this goal by “transforming the structures and support for our best players from the very bottom of the pyramid.”

Draper added that he was confident that the introduction of “a nationwide talent ID system” and “investing in a national performance network of clubs and coaches”, meant that the LTA “have the system and structures in place to deliver success at the top level of the sport”, insisting however, that “this will not happen overnight.”

Mr Draper refuted the suggestion that British tennis had been without a leading women’s professional for a number of years, stating: “I think we do have world class female players. Both Anne Keothavong and Elena Baltacha have reached the top 50 in the world, and their progress has encouraged and inspired younger players like Heather Watson and Laura Robson to try to catch them.” He confirmed that the success of the latter, younger stars at junior level was something that the LTA are hoping will “encourage more women and girls to play tennis” adding that the association’s main priority is “to grow participation and to help more people play tennis, and encouraging women and girls to play the sport is at the heart of this strategy.”

Roger admitted that success on the international circuit is important in order to ensure a growth in participation levels, but remained confident that “by investing in the places where tennis is played, in the people that take part in tennis at those places, whether it’s coaches, club managers or volunteers, and the programmes available there, like mini tennis, touch tennis and cardio tennis, we can encourage more people to play by making their experience of tennis even more enjoyable.”

Since becoming CEO of the LTA in 2006, Draper claimed that his proudest achievement at the association was laying the “foundations for growth in British tennis.” Roger believes that the LTA have achieved this through investing in “courts and facilities, in coach education and player programmes.” Draper claimed: “We’ve expanded our commercial programme to increase the amount we can invest in British tennis, and grown our major events, including the AEGON Championships at Queen’s, the AEGON International at Eastbourne, right through to playing our part in bringing the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at The O2.”

Mr Draper was keen to establish the LTA’s value on encouraging participation in the sport at youth level, revealing that through initiatives such as the AGEON Schools Programme, “there are now more than 45,000 children who play at least 6 competitive matches a year”, up from around 8,000 when the LTA underwent a major overhaul in its structure in 2006.

Roger turned down that the fact that a lack of success on the court makes his job more difficult off it, saying: “It’s very easy to judge success on one or two results around a fortnight in Summer, but our job is 52 weeks a year, and our focus is on long term trends – establishing whether we are taking the sport in the right direction long term.”

Draper stated that the nation’s love for sports and need for success was not a bad thing, adding: “I would far rather have an expectant public than people who didn’t care about what we achieve in the sport.” However, he did confirm that “Britain’s under-achievements in performance tennis go back generations, and I would encourage people to understand that to transform the sport takes time.”

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