A WIRRAL tennis coach has been recognised for helping young offenders in prison.

Nichola Smith, 43, from Wallasey has been honoured as the LTA’s Development Coach of 2024 after promoting the sport as an outlet for rehabilitation within prisons.

The annual LTA Tennis Awards, presented by Lexus, highlights and celebrates the achievements and contributions of people in tennis across Britain.

Held at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton, Nichola saw her commitment and impact recognised, having made it her mission to make tennis accessible to anyone.

She said: “It's going and seeing young offenders, people who are on the wrong path and trying to put them on the right path.

“That's the best part of my job. I love going in there - people think I'm nuts going into prison.

“It's my favourite time of the week, I love it. They get so much out of it, and it’s quite humbling at times going in there, but it’s brilliant.”

First launched in 2015 with the help of former LTA president Cathie Sabin OBE, the LTA Awards recognise the work of volunteers, coaches, officials, and players dedicating their time and energy to the development and growth of the sport.

For Smith, inclusivity and accessibility within the sport has been paramount, opening as many eyes as they can to the joys of tennis, regardless of background or ability.

She said: “It's just massive. We're trying to grow the sport, and it's not all about performance or programmes at the tennis club. 

“It's about getting out there and seeing people with disabilities, it's about meeting special educational needs.

“We're just trying to grow programmes and get people on court. Whether it's competing, whether it's just playing socially, recreationally with their friends - just to see them on court playing, getting coached, enjoying it, hitting, whatever it is.

“We just want to grow those numbers and grow the people playing.”

Smith was one of a batch of winners at the LTA Awards who had been selected from more than 2,200 nominations across 16 different categories, and were all acknowledged for their contribution to tennis in 2023.

LTA President Sandi Procter, speaking after the event at the National Tennis Centre, said: “The ceremony has been a tremendous celebration of the people that make our sport so special.

“The incredible stories behind the finalists are so heart-warming to hear. The hard work and dedication of all the winners and runners-up too is unbelievable, and I am always so impressed by the selfless sacrifice of all the volunteers, officials, and coaches.

“I have always been passionate about the grassroots and the awards are our way of highlighting the extraordinary contribution of the individuals and venues that help us open tennis up bringing new players and fans to the game.”

The annual LTA Tennis Awards, presented by Lexus.