Inside the life of a ball kid, by Lizzy Wastcoat

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Here is a new episode in my series of interviews to discover the job of people who are working around the ATP and WTA tennis players. After the jobs of PR manager and WTA physiotherapist, I decided to focus my attention on the ball kids. We don’t often talk about them, but these young people are really making an exciting and important work to be as helpful as possible for the players. And to talk about what it looks like to be a ball kid, Lizzy Wastcoat, who was a ball girl at Wimbledon, the most prestigious tournament in the world, has very nicely accepted to share with us her experience. (version française)

First of all, how did you get this job ?
So, to be a ball girl for Wimbledon, your school has to be listed on one of the acccepted schools. These schools are usually schools in the Wimbledon area but this can also depend on other factors. For example, my school received places based on a good performance by our schools ball kids at the 2012 Olympics. This team was made up of slightly older girls and it meant that Wimbledon could then except girls from the age of 14 up. You then complete several online tests and preliminary training sessions. If they see potential you carry on training. There is then further cuts in February and Easter. It is usually cut down from about 700-1000 applicants to 250. These final positions are made up of first years and people who have come back to do a second, third or fourth year at the Championships. Training is 2.5 hours a week and consists of practicing fake scenarios that could happen on court and what to do for a ball change, rain delay etc. Rolling the balls must be straight and flat and when feeding the player a ball your arm must be straight. There is a lot of attention to detail. You are then further tested on written tests and given scores. This will then determine if you get a place or not.

What looks like an average day in the life of a ball kid ?
At Wimbledon, ball kids are positioned underground-underneath Centre Court. Our day starts at 10 and finishes at the latest at the end of play at 10pm. A shift is 40 minutes and you will usually complete 3-4 shifts a day. The rest of the time is spent in the ball kid area where we play cards, ping pong, table football and watch the tennis on a very small TV. We also get given breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s hard work but very rewarding and you make lots of new friends with kids from very different schools.

What are the qualities of a good ball kid ?
A ball kid must be able to be quick and efficient. Every roll must be straight, every feed accurate. They must not show emotion on the court and they should always put the player first and be as helpful as possible. They will know their team members and be able to communicate well so that the team works as quickly and as efficiently as possible. They should anticipate and be thinking ahead so balls are always evenly distributed. A captain of the team should be a very good leader.

Is it more easy to pick balls on the net or on the background ? And what’s the difference ?
So they are separate positions. The teams consists of two centers and 4 bases. Usually smaller and faster kids are positioned at the net (centers). Kids who are taller and able to throw slightly further are bases. Once you have a position you tend not to change. I am a base and I think it is easier to watch the game and serve the player. The kids at the net must be very fit and not complain about painful knees!

Does someone make you aware of some special rituals a player can have before a match, like always give him/her the ball which won the point, always give the ball on the same side… ?
Yes this is a very important part of being a ball kid. We are always notified if a player wants the ball from only one side or wants all six balls at once for example. It’s important that we know so that we can do a good job for the player. The team will do their best to accommodate for this but sometimes this can be difficult.

Is there a lot of players who have these kind of rituals ?
Most players have something small they do to keep them focused. But it is usually the higher ranked players who are more complicated rituals or always want the balls from one side. It really varies. Many players want the same ball they won the last point with.

Who are the nicest and less nice players with the ball kids ?
This is difficult to answer! Most players do not take much notice of the ball kids but we are always treated well. From my own personal experience I thought the Bryan Brothers from the USA were extremely nice to us.

Can you share with us your best memory from this experience ?
I have so many! It was the best two weeks I could have asked for. Being on court everyday was a pleasure. But I have to say being a Guard Of Honour at the Womens Final is something I will never ever forget!

And to finish, ball kid, would you say it’s a dream job ?
Certainly so! You receive the best uniform for free and get paid to watch the game you love. I only wish I could do it every day! The ball kids at Wimbledon are the best in the world!

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