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‘Gibraltar is a very close knit community who always pulls together no matter how tough the situation might be’ - says Tennis player, coach and teacher James Taylor

Gibraltar’s sports community waits for that moment in which the lockdown is relaxed and sports people can return to the field, tracks and courts. Although the signs continue to show it could still be some time before it happens. However, it is far from inactive. Although sports might not be actively practiced, with many of its participants involved as frontline or key workers the close bonds between the community and sports continues. Many stepping forward to assist in the efforts to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus and provide their own particular service to the community, other taking onboard the responsibilities thrust on them through their profession outside the game.

Tennis, one of the contactless sports that has also come to a stop due to the restrictions on social gatherings has its own key workers, among them is James Taylor. Known for his exploits on the court during past Island Games, Mr Taylor is also among one of the key youth coaches in the game. His efforts in recent years not only providing young players with a key set of skills, but as seen this winter in our special feature Red and White report on young Jamie Stevenson, his work also provided life skills to a young boy fighting his own personal battle against illness.
Mr Taylor, himself a full time teacher at our local secondary schools has, like many other teachers, taken on board his responsibilities within the ranks of frontline key workers who continue to work assisting in the emergency contingency plans Gibraltar lives under.
We had a chance to catch up with James Taylor and find out what it was like under the lockdown.
We asked him first what it was like trying to keep active and physically fit as a sportsman.
“It has been extremely difficult. Tennis is a sport in which you have to be physically and mentally fit in order to play to a high standard.”
“With this lockdown keeping fit is crucial, i’ve been able to go for a few runs (jogging) cycling and even the odd yoga session with my daughters but funnily enough I’ve had more time during this pandemic to prepare my body than any other past period.”
“My issue has always been not respecting the physical aspect of the game.”
“I’ve always got away with just experience knowhow etc but I have never had the time to work on my game outside from the court- being in the gym or on the road jogging consistently etc. Being a family man your priorities change and I am satisfied with the current level in which I play now. I can enjoy it but I would be so much better if I did the right things. My overall game would improve tremendously.”
Asked on what were his biggest concerns, especially when it came to keeping players motivated Mr Taylor said, “my general concern would be the fact that for most of these kids sport is not just a physical activity or a social event but also a very important aspect of their lives. It forms a part of their emotional and mental well being.”
“I always try and keep these kids motivated by making the sessions enjoyable. With the younger kids ranging from 4 to 5 years of age I spend the last 20-25 minutes focusing on the technical aspect of their game such as their groundstrokes, timing , hand to eye co-ordination etc but the main bulk of the lessons consist of fun and games - striking the ball or target shooting, rallying and points. How I mix things just depends on thier competitive-play and ability. The older groups I focus more on points game play etc. It always makes me happy when they complete the lesson and want to stay longer.”
Thrust into the frontline as a key worker through his roll as a teacher, Mr Taylor, like most other teachers in Gibraltar was now experiencing a new form of education which had been adapted to meet the demands imposed by the restrictions on social gatherings.
We asked what it was like being a teacher during lockdown? As we find out his role did not end with just the education side of things. Alongside other colleagues in his school they were putting their skill sets and resources to good use as they produced practical items such as protective equipment for the Gibraltar Health Authority.
“Being a teacher for 14 years at Bayside comprehensive school and seeing how this situation has unfolded - its been quite surreal. At the moment it’s been tough. I really enjoy going to school and teaching my examination groups. As my main subject is more practical based there are certainly some aspects of the course which I am unable to do at home. Fortunately, we have been uploading work online which has been great.”
“Using the resources that we have I have been extremely proud on what my department along with Westside school have achieved. Producing numerous amounts of masks for the GHA as well as protective gear and other equipment. It shows that we are a team and that we are all in this together.”
Like others, work and sport where not the only concerns in his life. As a family man there was also his own family life he needed to juggle with. On a day to day basis James Taylor, prior to the lockdown would be jumping between his profession, sport and family, but only as he explained due to the support he received from his own family.
“I’m very fortunate that my family are very supportive and when school finishes I am able to go ahead with my coaching whilst my wife or grandparents take care of the children. I think thats a key part to my success as a player/coach . Both are my passion and I try my very best to pass this knowledge and experiences for these kids to follow. The ultimate aim are for the junior tennis players to be not just be an active competetive person but to be an example to others.”
“On a personal note being a father to three young kids - the only window I have to train properly would be either from 7am -9am or from 9-11pm evenings. Not ideal but the only way. You just have to be organised and mentally prepare yourself.”
But he had a message for those who were finding it hard during the lockdown to keep up with their physical training. “Go out, go for a walk a run a cycle etc maintain your focus becasue when we come out from this you will appreciate the sport that you are involved in a lot more. For the tennis enthusiasts , probably you will love the first time you strike the ball and you will probably won’t forget in an instant. It is important to always maintain your discipline.”
Asked on how he saw things once the lockdown was over and Gibraltar came out from the impact of the pandemic Mr Taylor had his concerns over what the impact would be on players, especially the younger players, although he was positive with respect to Gibraltar as a community pulling through.
“To be fair I think it’s going to take a bit of time for children to re-adjust and slowly get back to routine and for them to practice their social skills. Even if we do this I don’t think it will hit us that hard as Gibraltar is a very close knit community who always pulls together no matter how tough the situation might be.”
As a sportsman he believed it was “all about Organization.”
“If you are passionate about your sport you can adapt quickly and look at ways in which you can find the time to practice. I have no problem in training and getting myself back on the tennis court. I will train just as hard and be just as competitive trying to win every ball.”
Asked what lessons could be learnt as community and sports person from the present situation Mr Taylor said, “As I know from my own experience, sport is a powerful tool for developing essential life skills. Take better care of yourself. Maintain your healthy lifestyle. Don’t take anything for granted. Life’s too short. Appreciate the outside world and make the most out of everything no matter how hard the situation might be.”

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