Team work is key to the smooth running of Wimbledon. I’m not talking about the teams that look after the individual tennis stars; the coaches, nutritionists, agents etc., I’m talking about team work at the most fundamental level, without which Wimbledon would be chaos; matches would take forever, players would lose their cool (and probably more matches) and fans would get annoyed. Who can I possibly be talking about? Why the ball boys and ball girls of course!
These young people display tireless dedication to their work. Around 250 successful ball boys and ball girls are selected from around 1,000 applicants from schools in the South West of London. They typically start their team building training for the prestigious event in January and it’s a rigorous test of fitness, stamina and precision. Not only do they have to be able to stand stock still (or kneeling on one knee if they are at the net), for lengthy periods of time—which they must do with a straight face—they also have to be ultra-alert, always watching the game so when they are called into action they can respond with lightning speed. They must know the rules of the game inside and out.
These 14 and 15 year olds, who are usually budding tennis players themselves, also need to learn how to work together quickly. Their main aim is to get the tennis ball back to the relevant player as soon as possible. Often this involves dispatching the ball to another ball boy or ball girl first – particularly at the net. This must all be done via non-verbal communication, because a ball boy or ball girl must be seen and not heard.
All balls delivered either to the tennis players or to their colleagues must be done in a very precise motion. For balls across the net to another ball boy or ball girl, this must be done by rolling along the ground at a precise trajectory to enable the other person to catch it cleanly—tennis players and fans alike would not tolerate wasting time watching a ball boy chasing an errant ball around the court. Balls delivered to the tennis player for service must be delivered from waist height with a single bounce, these techniques take a long time to perfect, hence the long training schedule before the tournament.
As the competition heats up, the ball boys and ball girls must be careful not to show any emotion on the court, they cannot be seen to be cheering on their favourite player, even if Andy Murray is having a storming game they have to wait until they are off-court before they can crack a smile of admiration.
So, while you’re watching Murray and Djokovic each try and make it to the semi-finals today, spare a thought for the young people in green and purple and how they help make the whole Wimbledon experience run smoothly.