Byron Werbeloff making a difference

Tennis coach Byron Werbeloff, and ex Gauteng Central provincial player, has found the need to improve the lives of people in the inner-city communities in Johannesburg.

Byron, 26, has done remarkably well for a person of his age and earlier this year he was the convener of the South African tennis team at the Maccabi Games in Israel. “Maccabi was fantastic,” he said, “but I really want to focus on where people really need it. This is my passion.”

Byron has the Centre Court Tennis Academy SA which is currently based at King David High School Linksfield and on the Wits University East Campus in Braamfontein. He then set up the CCTA Future Stars non-profit organisation, which is a programme developed by Byron together with tennis coaching staff, Bevan Fenner and Thato Lebelo.

It all started from an idea he had some 18 months back when he devised a plan to find some of the best tennis players from inner-city areas like Yeoville, Berea Hillbrow, etc. “I was looking for the cream of the crop and get them to play tennis.

“However, while tennis was the starting point, the plan was to use it to get them a better education so they could improve their lives. I recognised the talent in them but in the end, education comes first.”

He helped to get them scholarships at schools, “but at the same time they were playing tournaments as well”.

Byron has managed to put together a programme, but at the moment it is self-funded. “I personally sponsor 10 youngsters, but we have another group who we charge a couple of hundred rand and they get tennis coaching every Thursday for a year. We have brought a lot of players into the system this way.

“But from next year we will be looking for sponsorship.”

His programme received a massive fillip two weeks ago when Tennis South Africa (TSA) started to get involved and Byron was appointed development officer for the Central Gauteng.

“It’s a huge area. Last week I had a meeting with TSA chief executive Richard Glover and we have set up a second meeting next week. We discussed our strategy for what we want to achieve. This plan I developed, which is really exciting, is to look at all the development centres and see where they have courts – places like Ellis Park, for example.

“We will look at the coaches available, but we need to be sure they have the ability to improve the kids. We will fund them, make sure they are all licenced and up-to-date with all the modern courses. This will be done in all seven regions of Gauteng Central.”

They looked at the avenues open to them and had to take the decision of which ones to use. “The schooling system is the obvious route, but right now it is badly in need of a revamp. We also have to use outside factors.”

The one question for Byron is what to do if he does unearth an exceptional talent. “We don’t want them necessarily to turn into professional players, but if we do find someone special that when TSA will step in.

“From my point of view, if some of these players are good enough to make some extra money on the side, that will help them. I can tell you now I have seen more talent in the townships than I’ve come across in tournaments. Some of those kids are so good, but they’re winning matches on ability, not on coaching and that’s scary.

“The main point I went to get across is that people think there are plenty of programmes out there, but the problem is that many of the people running the development programmes came through the programmes themselves and have not got the skills to run them properly. Some of them are also being run for the wrong reasons.”

In particular, Byron is not fond of what he terms “one-off events”. “Invariably they cannot be sustained. You bring a professional player to a clinic and the kids have a lot of fun but then that impetus is not continued and the kids lose interest.

“Successful programmes have to be linked and they have to be sustainable. I feel I can make a difference.”
Credit: Jewish Report written by Jack Milner