Viren Soma: tennis coach

8 Apr

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story. Whatever the weather there always seems to be a tennis coach setting up the perfect rally shots on the courts at Highbury Fields – and often it’s Viren Soma. Interview by Nicola Baird.

viren soma

Viren Soma; “tennis coaching and playing are two different things.”

Watching tennis pros on TV – Ferrer or Murray say – its tempting to think tennis is always strenuous exercise. But Highbury Fields tennis coach Viren Soma, 40, barely builds a sweat despite playing 30-40 hours a week.

“It’s not intensive exercise – some lessons I just stand still,” he says laughing over a latte during his lunch break. “Coaching and playing are two different things. Mostly I’m hitting the ball nicely to people. It ruins your game always being nice and you don’t have the time to compete. But if everyone was really good I’d kill myself physically!”

Of course Viren is joking – but for his tennis-crazy family, who grew up in South Africa during apartheid, sport was a matter of life or death. “My uncle Jasmat, and dad, Hiralal – known as the Dhiraj brothers (their father’s first name) – represented the South African Lawn Tennis Union which was the non white tennis union – part of SACOS (South African Council of Sport) which was the national sports body of non- white sport in South Africa at the time.”

“Because of apartheid they couldn’t play against white guys,” explains Viren. “So they had to save up money, and quit their jobs in order to tour Europe playing tennis. When my uncle made political statements which helped get South Africa kicked out of the 1970 Davis Cup (a worldwide tennis tournament) he had to stay in England where he had some friends. Then my dad joined him. They were both involved with the ANC (African National Congress) and SANROC*, the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee, which helped them settle in the UK. Both groups ensured that South Africa was kept out of international sport [and the Olympics] until apartheid was ended. Sport is so big in South Africa that exclusion from international sport really hurt.”

“I was born in Pretoria, but my mum and I joined my dad, who is now 68, here in London when I was two, in 1974. We were first at Crouch End, then Aberdeen Road, then Highbury New Park, then Blackstock Road and then Stoke Newington. I went to school at Highbury Quadrant and then to Highbury Grove – all my friends were in Islington. But I’ve just moved to Haringey with my fiancee, three-year-old son and 10 month old daughter.”

10,000 hours

Skill at tennis isn’t a gene, but when your dad is a tennis coach and your childhood is spent playing tennis (both Viren and his younger brother Hitesh were in Islington’s tennis teams) perhaps it’s no surprise that when Viren left school at 18 he went “straight into tennis coaching.” He spent nine years at Islington Tennis Centre* on Market Road but is now a regular at the courts by Oasis in the Park. “Being outdoors and seeing the seasons on Highbury Fields is great. I can’t bear being cooped up indoors, and every lesson is different – new things happen every day on the fields.  And until my son started to go to nursery I was rarely ill, though now I do pick up bugs.”

Although Islington has few indoor or outdoor courts – indeed when Wimbledon* starts it’s hard to get on to a tennis court, despite the floodlights allowing play after dusk – there’s the Islington Tennis League which organises single and double competitions.

Viren is also a member of Highbury Fields Tennis Steering Group (HFTSG) which aims to be “a voice for all who play tennis and offer tennis services on the fields.” Even so he is sad that “there’s no proper tennis club in Islington, the place where parents join and the kids come along and watch, and go to lessons. It makes it hard to reinforce the skills, especially hand and eye co-ordination. To do well you need mental, physical, technical and tactical skills, if you’ve read Bounce – the blockbuster sports coaching book about the myth of talent and the power of practice by table-tennis genius and Times sports writer Matthew Syed – you’ll know what I mean.”

Virem reckons playing tennis is far more than a sport. “Playing tennis reflects life. Some of the kids have to umpire their own matches – it’s not like football. So at 11 if someone cheats you or gives a wrong call [out when you think the ball is on the line and should be in] and you have an argument you’ve got to resolve that. Things aren’t always going to go your own way so you have to learn how to deal with situations that sport presents – just like conflict with someone in the street, or a friend.

When to start playing tennis?
The youngest kid has been two and a half – you just roll the ball, like you might roll them a toy car or a balloon. It’s basic ball skills. Lots of the skills I teach on the court parents could be doing, or children would be doing if they played outside – like catching a ball.

What to wear for bad weather?
I wear a jacket with a thermal layer and several base layers, but I’m on court from 9am. It’s not a problem if you are playing for one or two hours. It is difficult when you get several seasons in one day.

Tell me how to be a great tennis player
It depends on how good you want to be. What is good to you – keeping a rally going or winning tournaments? Having a lesson and practicing/playing matches 2 or 3 times a week will see you improve much quicker.

Any nutritional tips?
I have a mixture of good and bad food. In the evenings I eat well – but during the day it’s pasta and sandwiches. I get lunch mostly at Didos in Highbury Barn and drinks from Oasis in the Park.

Dido cafe serves hot and cold snacks - it's busy at lunch time with staff from nearby schools and tennis coach Viren Soma.

Dido cafe serves hot and cold choices at Highbury Barn. It’s busy at lunch time, often with staff from nearby schools plus tennis coach Viren Soma taking a well-earned break.

Food, fun and toddlers
When Viren isn’t on the courts at Highbury Fields or Woodvale Lawn Tennis Club in Crouch End or following Arsenal FC he likes to “look at the shops at Upper Street and have a coffee at Tinderbox in Angel. My three-year-old loves to run around on Islington Green, go to the playground at Finsbury Park and the swimming pool at Highbury Fields. My fiancee and I used to live off Essex Road – everything was so close we ate everywhere on Upper Street, now if I go out there are lots of great Turkish restaurants like Gokyuzu on Green Lanes.

  • Highbury Fields Tennis Courts can be booked on line for one hour slots between 8am-9pm any day. Use this booking form here Courts cost: £10 adults and £4.50 junior [with an Izz card it is £8.50 adults and £3.50 juniors]
  • There are five regular tennis coaches at Highbury Fields – Viren, his brother Hitesh, Manu, John Paul and Wendy.
  • Viren charges adults £40 per hour including court fee and juniors £33.50 – but you can share a session, so get together a group of six kids and its approx £7 a lesson. Contact him on virensoma@hotmail.com
  • Islington Tennis League, runs four competitions a year matching you against people of a similar standard locally. The entry fee is £15 and you usually have eight weeks to play your matches.

More info*

TENNIS

SAN-ROC – brief summary here 

Crouch End tennis clubs – there are more than 13 tennis clubs in Haringey, many at Crouch End, see details here

Highbury Fields Tennis Steering Group – a voice for all who play tennis and offer tennis services on the fields.voice

Islington Tennis Centre,  Market Road, N7, 020 7700 1370 has indoor and outdoor courts.

Lawn Tennis Association, for any questions you might have about tennis

Wimbledon 2013 – is from 27 June to 7 July.

OUT AND ABOUT

Dido for lunches, 1a Highbury Barn, N5.

Gokyuzu for Turkish dining 26-27 Grand Parade, Green Lanes, N7,

Oasis in the Park, see the islingtonfacesblog interview here with Yehia El Nemer.

Tinderbox for coffee at the N1 Centre, 7 Parkfield Street, N1

Over to you

What made you get involved in Islington life – do you find it a way to make friends or something to be proud about doing?  By the way, if you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

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One Response to “Viren Soma: tennis coach”

  1. homemadekids April 11, 2013 at 2:25 pm #

    Viren writes: “There have been a lot of likes on my FB page and so many have commented on it!” – after I told him that this post has been the most popular ever, with the most views in one day. Yeah to Facebook sharing! Nicola

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