How tennis saved my life from war-torn Sierra Leone

Sam Jalloh is a tennis player who is all about the community and giving back to everyone in the community. He is someone who wants to help whenever possible and is also a huge fan, coach and player of tennis.

Talking about tennis and how he got into the sport, Sam was all about giving back to his family who supported him as a youngster in his quest to become a real player at tennis and he said that the money available was very attractive to him.

“ I have been involved in tennis for a couple of years now, what actually got me into tennis was because I wanted to help my family back in Sierra Leone when I was a kid, then I found out that the youngsters who represent Sierra Leone in tennis they get allowance of over 200 dollars which really attracted me as a call to play.

“Coming from a very tough back ground, 250 dollars in those days was a lot of money help my family and myself to go to school and I decided to take up tennis and the rest became history.”

Jalloh has also played at a good level from the age of 13, representing his country and featuring in a Davis cup team.

“I first started with the nationals in Sierra Leone when I was 13 and played at ITF juniors and played all over Africa represent my country and then I was part of the Sierra Leone Davis cup team, but we couldn’t get funding for that.

“I played in the futures, which are the ones below ATP and I played in the all African games for Sierra Leone which is the biggest sporting event Africa which is hosted every four years.

“I played at a decent level but unfortunately for someone like me coming from Africa which is not a poor country, however miss management has caused the country and the people to be poor so we didn’t have the opportunity and the finance to play that we needed.”

When he came over to England, Sam found it tough to carry on playing at the level he was, mainly because his life changed a little.

“Once I moved to England I was already 23 but by then I was married, to then start a new family which was almost like you’re getting too late and have no money to finance.

Tennis is a sport which takes a lot of hard work and commitment and a lot of fitness, but within it, there is also a lot to enjoy about the sport which Sam talks about. 

“The competitive side of the sport and, it’s a global sport so you meet all sorts of different nationalities, you learn a lot from others and it’s a very gentle sport as they always say but the competitive side is what I love most.”

Growing up as a child, everyone has a hero or two, someone they look up to in the same sport they play, but that was different for Sam, his heroes meant the world to him and they were people he looked up to the most.

“I was never one of those people that said I want to be like anyone, I admire a lot of people like Sampras but if I’m counting hero’s, it would be my mum and dad because they work really hard.

“I wanted to play tennis like I said to help my family, but I admire what people like Sampras because of his serving volley but I just wanted to be myself and wanted to be known as Sam Jalloh. I was inspired by Sampras when it comes to tennis, but my heroes are my mum and dad.”

They were the people who inspired Sam to start giving something back which helped him get into coaching tennis, but also the move over to England influenced his decision more.

“After when I moved to England in 2004, and then had twin daughters in 2005 I was still young but and then still struggling with funding, struggling to play in the challengers and trying to get to the ATP.

“By 2006 I made my mind up that you know I think I’m just going to become a coach that will be easier for me, to pass on what I have learnt to the younger generation.”

To become a professional coach, Sam had to go through necessary training and coaching with the PTA to be able to become professional, and since then he hasn’t looked back.

“So, I did my qualification with them in bath city, that was in 2006 and I then became a professional coach with them.

“A year later I did the LTA and became an LTA coach as well but since then I have worked at David Lloyd and I have been a coach at Rainsford tennis club, but for the past six years I have been touring all over the world.”

Although he became a coach, Sam still felt he needed to give more back to the community. His idea was setting up a tennis foundation because he saw a lot of children suffer including himself.

“After when I finished playing in 2007 I was one of the 11 children and my parents were also extremely poor and there were no kids activates in Sierra Leone because it had a very terrible civil war.

“I was there, and I was a victim and saw what happened and saw what having no future programme for children can do, therefore a lot of the kids were smoking weed and taking drugs.

He wanted to use the foundation as a platform to “educate young ones and give them something positive to think about.”

“After when I finished, my desire was to make sure that I used tennis as a platform to go out there and start educating the young ones, give them something positive to think about, give them activities to do and help the coaches.

“I found that in 2008 with help of Max Thompson son of (Phil) so put the foundation together which was firstly known as the max and Sam tennis foundation and a few years max went on to become a doctor and we changed the name.

“So, the main aim and objective is to help coaches and provide equipment. I finance the foundation and everything else with no help, because I cannot wait for people to help out.” 

One last message from Sam was for anyone who wanted to get into tennis.

“First of all, you need to love whatever you want to do, and you need to have passion and desire to do whatever you want do.

“If you can learn from people life the Spanish and Americans then you become a better coach rather than people saying I’m just in the British system that alone is going to help you, but if you love what you do and have passion for it then go for it.”