Members of Hastings tennis club Amherst are lucky to have as their head coach Doug Keen, once a winner on the US Satellite Tour and at the age of 49 still an outstanding player and enthusiastic teacher. Luck? From Doug’s perspective it was God that brought him to Hastings.

Doug Keen
PICTURE: Chloe Keen

Doug, born in Ohio and bred in Michigan, always had a talent for tennis.  He played inter-state college matches across the USA for Kalamazoo, a multiple champion-producing academy under renowned coach George Acker and after graduating, set out to try to make it as a pro. He was technically proficient and competitive, always quick around the court, but didn’t have any ‘big’ shots. He won some, he lost some. He felt a certain emptiness. Then at the age of 24 he became a Christian.

He quotes the seventeenth century French theologian Blaise Pascal:“There is a God-shaped hole in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.” Christianity changed the direction of his life.

He studied the Bible at ministry school in New Mexico, financing himself by qualifying as a USPTA tennis coach and working at the Four Hills Country Club in Albuquerque, New Mexico (not quite the high class venue it sounds, he says). He joined Calvary Chapel, which had started in southern California in the 1960s as a revivalist movement, attracting former hippies to the message of Bible-based evangelism. He married his wife Lisa in 1998, and in the following year the couple were invited to visit friends who had started a Calvary Chapel in Harrogate, Yorkshire. Neither had ever been to Britain before    but they came, and stayed.

Doug’s plan was to set up a new Calvary Chapel, obeying the Bible injunction to be a ‘fisher of men’. He settled in York, where there was a Next Generation tennis academy, and carried on combining coaching in the sport with evangelical preaching and Bible-teaching. Then at prayer one night 12 years ago he received a message that he felt was “from the Lord” that he should go “south”. Spain? South Africa? The next day he received a letter from a pastor inviting him to come and share in establishing a new Calvary Chapel in Hastings. He, Lisa and daughters (there are now four of them) came here. So Calvary Chapel Hastings was born, first in their front room at home, then at community centres, now with dedicated premises in Duke Road, St Leonards. A generation of budding tennis players at Amherst have been secondary gainers from the move, benefiting from Doug’s continued tennis coaching.

How do Christian faith and a sport like tennis match up?  There’s no doubt what comes first: ‘We believe that knowing God is our highest calling and our relationship to him is our highest priority.’ as the Chapel website expresses it (Matthew 22:37-40, 17.3). But Doug says he has no difficulty in retaining his enthusiasm for tennis while pursuing his religion.  He coaches a maximum of 16 hours a week and says he still gets pleasure from it.  “Every day I see amazing mechanisms in the human body.  They are put there by God. And whatever we’re to do, we’re to do for the Lord.”  He quotes from his favourite movie, Chariots of Fire, where Olympic sprinter and future missionary Eric Liddell explains: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure”.

I point out to Doug that tennis isn’t just hitting a ball well, it’s about winning – or  losing. You’re trying to put the ball where your opponent can’t return it, and every point you win is a point he or she loses. Is that a Christian attitude? Doug laughs and points out that a proper sportsman, as in Kipling’s poem “If”, meets triumph and disaster ‘and treats those two impostors just the same’.  Actually, he became a better tennis player and won more often after he became a Christian, he says, precisely because he didn’t care so much –  or rather left it to God to determine    whether he won or lost. It’s a good way to enjoy tennis, whatever your faith.

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