Deaf Sports Stars20th July 2015

An interview with dedicated budding tennis star Jack Clifton

Deaf from birth, Jack's access to Deaf Sport has given him wonderful experiences and a great opportunity for the future

by Sarah Lawrence, Editor

With the World’s biggest Deaf tennis championships getting under way in Nottingham today, we managed to catch up with 19 years old Jack Clifton, ranked 18th in the world, and one of Britain’s rising stars. With 13 years old brother Toby also taking part in the Junior Deaf Championships, this will be a nervous but exciting week for the Clifton family, with both brothers expected to do well in their respective tournaments.

Born and brought up in Purley, in the London Borough of Croydon, Jack and his brother Toby were born profoundly deaf. Jack was fitted with a cochlear implant in his left ear at the age of 5, whilst Toby has a bilateral implant, the first fitted when he was 14 months old and the second when he was 5. Neither had access to sign language and have been brought up orally in mainstream education.

Pre-school, Jack attended the Hearing Centre at Christopher Place in London. He then attended Hayes Primary School in Purley. Despite being the first deaf child there, Jack is complimentary about the support he was given. His secondary education took place at Riddlesdown Collegiate, a big mainstream school. “I really enjoyed my time there and always felt a part of classes and the school,” Jack told me. “I had a teaching assistant in some of my lessons and teachers always helped me by making sure I was sat at the front of the class and gave me powerpoint notes.”

With deafness causing some isolation for many deaf children in mainstream school, I asked Jack whether being deaf had ever been an issue for him. “Being deaf has never been an issue for me. It has never held me back from doing the things I want to do and I always have felt accepted by people I meet. I have never had a problem at school with bullying.”

Having a life-long interest in sport, Jack was told when he had his cochlear implants fitted to avoid contact sports. Taking heed of the advice, Jack took up tennis. “Conveniently, there is a tennis club at the end of my road, he explained. “I used to play once or twice a week until my mum found out about an article on Deaf tennis in the CICS magazine when I was 11. Once I knew that there were many opportunities in deaf tennis such as the Deaflympics, and international competitions, I immediately started playing more.”

Playing in his first Deaf National Championships aged 12, Jack went on to win the junior title a year later. A fine prospect, Jack then got involved with training camps for development players which were run every 3 or 4 months. Continuing to progress the training became more regular with monthly training sessions organised by the Tennis Foundation and the Deaf national coaches.

“I played in my first international deaf tournament in 2011 in Turkey aged 15,” Jack recalled. “I have competed in international tournaments every year since in countries such as America and Germany, and in 2013, I was delighted to be selected to represent Great Britain in the Deaf tennis team at the Sofia Deaflympics.”

Competing in the first ever World Deaf Tennis Championships this week, in the singles, doubles and mixed doubles events, Jack has also played extensively in mainstream tennis. “Throughout my whole tennis career, I have participated in many regional and national mainstream tournaments. I have trained 5 times a week for 3 years now and attend training squads at my local tennis centre who have been great in making sure I can follow everything that is being said and make me feel a part of the team.”

Jack’s tennis exploits have recently led to him being awarded a tennis scholarship at the Davis and Elkins University in West Virginia, in the United States. Commenting on the scholarship Jack said, “I am delighted with this as it allows me to carry on playing tennis and improving my game with 20 hours of tennis a week and at the same time I can earn myself a degree/major in Sports management.”

“I can't wait to get out there next month to start training with the team and travelling around America competing in tournaments and matches against other universities. The college tennis structure out there is extremely competitive which is exactly what I need and furthermore to hopefully gain a major in Sports marketing at the end of my 4 years will put me in good stead for the future. I hope to get into the top 5 in the world deaf tennis rankings in the next 4 years and continue to play mainstream tournaments and continuing to improve my ranking in that as well.”

Whilst the scholarship will see Jack competing in the mainstream in America, Jack is also appreciative of the part Deaf tennis plays in his life. “Deaf tennis is really important to me as it has given me many opportunities to interact with other deaf people and allowed me to do many things such as travel around the world and attend events.”

“I can't thank the Tennis Foundation and the current deaf tennis coach Catherine Fletcher enough for allowing me to achieve my goals as they have always supported me and helped me to be the best I can be. They have ensured a clear pathway for me straight from grass roots when I first started out to competing at the international level and getting me to my current world ranking of 18 and I hope to keep on climbing up the world rankings in the future. Tennis is a game for life and is very accessible so it is a great sport for deaf people who are looking to meet new people, participate in sport or aspiring tennis players.”

Deaf tennis has also been a big part of younger brother Toby’s development in the game. He told me, “Deaf tennis has been really good fun for me! I love meeting other deaf tennis players and I am lucky to have my older brother Jack to help me with my tennis and hopefully one day I can be as good as him. I played in the European Deaf Tennis Championships in Germany last year with two other deaf tennis players my age (Esah Hayat and Phoebe Suthers) and that was a really good experience playing deaf tennis players from around the world. I am playing at the Junior Deaf Tournament in Nottingham. This is at the same time as the world deaf tennis championships so I can't wait to see the best deaf tennis players in the world play!”

Whilst hopes are high in their respective competitions for both boys, Jack is just looking to take one game at a time and not heaping too much pressure on his young shoulders. Feeling good about his tennis he hopes to have a good run in all three competitions, pairing up with Lewis Fletcher in the men’s doubles and another youngster Bethany Brooks in the mixed doubles. 

Of course, behind the boys achievements are incredibly supportive parents. Asking them about their role they told me, “We have helped Jack and Toby to make sure that they always enjoy themselves when participating in deaf and mainstream tennis and encourage them to interact with others. All the coaches we have come across have been very accommodating and have ensured that they have understood drills and tactics etc.”

“As they are in mainstream school, deaf tennis has given them the opportunity to meet other young deaf people. Had it not been for the opportunities from deaf tennis and the Tennis Foundation, I am not sure that they would have continued to the level that they have, which has led to Jack to getting his tennis scholarship in America. I would strongly recommend parents of other deaf children to get into deaf sport. There are many opportunities to be had and UK Deaf Sport are extremely helpful in ensuring deaf people are able to access all sports and will be more than happy to help.”

On Saturday there is a 'come and try' session for those who are looking for some coaching from national coaches and have some fun with the top deaf tennis players in the world! To find out more you can visit the website at: On the website there is a form to pre-register for the 'come and try' sessions or you can turn up on the day at the Nottingham Tennis Centre. 

With the tennis kicking off in anger today, we wish both Jack and Toby as well as the other British players the best of luck.

Article by Sarah Lawrence, Editor

posted in Deaf Sport / Deaf Sports Stars

20th July 2015