Coaching a World Champion

23rd May 2023
BY Timothy Cawston, Lawn Tennis and Rackets Coach
Tim Cawston, rackets coach at the College, talks about the history of the game, playing at the College, and what it took for his son, Ben to win a world championship.

A long history

Often described as the fastest ball game in the world - in New York recently the ball was logged as moving at 239 mph - rackets dates back to early Victorian times. The military used it as a reflex training exercise and so courts sprang up across the world. 

Similar in many ways to squash (invented at Harrow School when boys were waiting to play 'the real game' of rackets), a key difference between the two is the behaviour of the ball, which in rackets is solid and can skid when hitting the stone floor, causing it to travel at extrodinary speeds and change trajectory rapidly.

Also unlike squash, rackets is mainly played in a doubles format, although the singles game is also highly regarded. A fast paced and exciting game, rackets is available to anyone, but those who get to the very top of the game tend to have demonstrated adept skills at another sport, such as tennis. For example, in 2008 when the College first won the National School Doubles, one of our opponents was the captain of the England Junior cricket team.

Rackets at Winchester

Winchester boasts two courts, which are large buildings (each one is a similar size to a small church or chapel) and highly regarded on the circuit as their walls are particularly true, which lends a predictable and clean bounce to the ball, providing a perfect surface both for learning the game and competing at a high level.

We have around fifty pupils playing the game at the College today. It's a friendly community, as rackets is a particularly social sport, and pupils from different ages and houses are able to come down to the courts and chat and play against each other. 

Many grow to love the sport and, after they leave, can apply for a placement in a club in the USA for a few months during their gap year. They can also come back and play at Winchester or participate in tournaments both in the UK and the USA. We have a strong contingent of highly supportive OWs who regularly play the pupils, passing on their knowledge and experience.   


Becoming world class

Not having experience in another sport is by no means a roadblock to succeeding in rackets. My goal as a coach is to help players get to as high a level as possible, and if a pupil works hard and put in the hours on the court, they can become an extremely competent player.

My son Ben's first game was table tennis but he started playing rackets aged 10, using Winchester's courts during the holidays or practising with Winchester's pupils. He won the U15s Singles at Queen's and soon after became the youngest player to win the British Amateur Championships. Ben followed in my footsteps, coaching at various schools, whilst also competing on the international circuit. Having secured enough tournament successes to secure a challenge against defending World Champion Tom Billings, Ben put in impressive performances in the two legs, held in Chicago and London. Earlier this month Ben was crowned the new World Champion.

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