October 17, 2014
What was your high school job? From petrol station attendant to retail assistant, most of us are happy to have any job during high school. For Wimbledon’s famous ball boys and girls, their high school job is far more than just a source of income.
First, there are the perks – hanging out on the court with Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Andy Murray. There’s also the television coverage, giving ball boys and girls the chance to be seen, even if just for seconds, by tens of millions.
Then there’s the glamour and fame. While most of us might think of ball boys and girls (BBGs for short) as Wimbledon staff, they’re famous enough to get over 200 questions posed to them during Reddit AMAs. Wimbledon was the first tennis tournament to introduce ball boys, introducing the courtside assistants in 1920. At first, ball boys were provided by Shaftesbury Homes – a charity for disadvantaged children now known as Shaftesbury Young People.
The selection process for becoming a Wimbledon BBG is tough, and the training for the tournament gruelling and difficult. Think you’ve got what it takes? Read on and learn how Wimbledon ball boys and girls are chosen.
The selection process
Since 1969, Wimbledon ball boys and girls have been provided by local schools. As of 2008, ball boys and girls are selected from a range of schools in the London area, including the boroughs of Merton, Sutton, Kingston and Wadsworth. Some BBGs are also selected from schools in Surrey.
The All England Club receives around 700 applications every year, from which 250 are chosen to take part in The Championships. In order to be considered, BBGs need to be nominated by their school’s head teacher.
From here, the process becomes tougher. Candidates need to pass a series of written tests on the rules of tennis. From scoring to foot faults, candidates need to know the subtleties of tennis in great detail to make it through the tough testing process.
After the written test, there’s physical training. The Independent sports writer and columnist Tom Peck took part in Wimbledon’s physical training in 2013, describing it as “a never-ending medley of jumps, squat thrusts, high knees and the like.”
Peck likened the selection process, which whittles down around 700 applicants to just 250 BBGs, to the infamous boot camp training sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam War film Full Metal Jacket.
The successful applicants aren’t just physically fit and immensely knowledgeable on tennis; they’re also experts in the art of rolling. Successful BBGs needs to be able to roll a tennis ball across the court with the precision of a champion snooker player.
The test of rolling skill is simple in theory but incredibly challenging in practice. One BBG stands at each end of the court. Their task is to roll a ball along the ground right into the other BBG’s hand, without either of them moving even an inch.
Sound simple? Prospective BBGs practice on hard courts; during Wimbledon, they’ll need to complete the same ultra-difficult challenge on grass. It’s easy to see why just the very best manage to make the cut.
Other tasks include feeding – dropping balls directly onto players’ rackets – and the seemingly simple but massively draining task of being able to stand, ready to act, at the edge of the court for two weeks of competition.
It’s exciting, fun and glamorous, but being a Wimbledon BBG certainly isn’t all fun in the sun. From the earliest games of the tournament to the finals, being a BBG is one of the most challenging jobs out there.
Think you’ve got what it takes?
Between 700 and 1,000 people apply to be Wimbledon ball boys and girls each and every year. Just 250 make it to the tournament. While the odds of making it in seem slim, motivated youngsters see it as less of a concern and more of a challenge.
With the average BBG just 15 years of age, it’s truly an exclusive position. However, for London high school students motivated and discipline enough to make their way through the training, there’s no better reward than being selected as a BBG.