Joselyne Umulisa has been in tennis during the past two decades. She joined the sport as a player in 2003 when she was a secondary school level two student and her passion for the sport inspired her to share her experience to the young generation with an ultimate goal to see Rwandan tennis hitting a satisfying level that every Rwandan would be proud of. She played as an individual and for the national team, before embarking on her coaching career. Arguably one of the best tennis players that the country has ever produced, Umulisa caught up with Times Sport’s Peter Kamasa on what drives her to champion Tennis development among young talents and her plan to uplift young girls in the tennis game in particular. Tell us more about yourself and take us through your tennis career Joselyne Umulisa is a Tennis player and coach and the founder of Rwanda Youth Development Foundation. I started to play tennis in 2003. It is a long and difficult journey but I realized that I have to give my best so that I can improve myself and the young generation. The parents did not understand how the girls play tennis and, consequently, I used to hide it from my family that I play until they knew it. Tell us more about your tennis development initiative I have been a tennis champion for a long time and I later realized that I have to create something which can change the life of young people and started Rwanda Youth Tennis Development Programme. I was convinced that I had to create something which can help young people to play tennis, especially introducing girls to the game since a number of them had limited opportunities to play it. As a champion, I am trying to push girls. I want to see my contribution making an impact in building Rwandan tennis. That’s why I said to myself ‘let me do something, create a platform to introduce young girls to the game. My vision is to develop this programme where 70% of participants are girls. I started with eight young players but the turn up has grown...now we are 67. So I am happy with the interest that kids are showing in this program. The programme started at Amahoro Tennis Club, I later took it to Cercle Sportif de Kigali, then Nyarutarama Tennis Club, and now, we have expanded it at Vision City Club, Gacuriro. The plan is to introduce the program to other places like Ngoma, Bugesera and Mahama. Which players have been raised in your tennis program? After two years of operations, 16-year-old Claude Ishimwe, who played in U18s in Nairobi, is one of young tennis players raised through the programme. We have others who are coming up. I hope that, in three to four years, we will have players who will be playing in the Davis Cup. Do you have a special program for girls? Yes, I have a special program for girls which takes place every Friday from 3 pm to 5 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 1 pm. I try to give them my time so that they can develop themselves, technically, tactically and physically. I have coaches who are able to give them good skills and I always monitor them so that we can do a good job. What are you doing to champion tennis development among young women? Personally, I am aiming to produce at least 20 young players, including girls, every year and from there we will be able to have competition among them which will help us to evaluate their improvement. My initiative targets young tennis players regardless of gender but of course young women are part of it. They are part of this journey and we want to see them playing tennis at the top level. It is possible because the parents are understanding the benefits of the game. But we still have a long way to go even if we have the talent. We can scout young players across the country who can be turned into future good tennis players that can play at the top level. We need to nurture as many as we can so that we have a large pool of players to pick from. Why are girls still lagging behind in tennis? What are the challenges? The biggest challenge is awareness which is still low among Rwandans that a girl can also go to sports to have fun with others. Parents are concerned about coaches’ professionalism. Some even think that the game is too expensive but we are here to help and show them that it is the opposite, that their children can still play regardless of their financial challenges. Other challenges are the equipment but we are trying to give our best to address it as we continue to engage sponsors in this journey. Do Rwandan female players have what it takes to play top international tennis? Competence is not at a high level but we have to work hard for the young girls, they need to improve the game. We haven’t got a professional player but we have some players who are in colleges outside of Rwanda so we believe that the trend will change in the future as long as some of them play the game at the top level. The solution lies in having sustainable structures enough to even produce more young female talents who can carry on from where we stopped. Through our program, we are working on mental, technical and physical aspects of the game as we push to raise the level of the game among young girls. Why are women not joining coaching in tennis? The mindset and history matter. Women hardly launch their careers in coaching because of their family responsibilities and others don’t see themselves spending more than six hours coaching. We need to produce many players who can take up coaching careers after retiring. We didn’t have a lot of players, that's why we don’t have many women coaches either.