Written by: Pierre Lamarche
***Pierre Lamarche is the President of All-Canadian Sports Management Inc. which operates ACE Tennis, publishes ONcourt and owns Toronto Tennis City. He is the former Canadian National Champion, Davis Cup Captain and Player. Pierre Lamarche is also in the Canadian and Rogers Tennis Hall of Fame.***
For my kids, March Break is holiday time. It’s hard for them to understand that March Break in our family is the same as any other week end; dad is at tournaments with his other kids. This is day 11 of the Provincials, and we had 20 kids in the Under 18 Provincials, but none in the singles finals. So today, Sunday, I get a day off to take care of family business, since next Friday Andrea Rabzak (from ORC) and I go to Montreal as the Ontario Provincial coaches with the Under 16 team. This morning while walking by the lake with Mickey, our Vizsla, a multitude of thoughts flashed to mind on the last ten days. Here are some of those thoughts.
What a great experience the Provincials (and Nationals) are… So many lessons are learned by so many kids. Training is a prerequisite for success in performance, but the true test of the training is the application of the learned skills in important competitive situations (qualifying for the nationals).
I believe Ontario players need more meaningful competitive opportunities. It is a common thought that the whole competitive structure must be revisited at the provincial and national level, to provide more and better opportunities for players of all levels. The Canadian competitive structure, which has been upgraded, especially at the pro entry level, is probably one of the weakest links in the developmental capacity of our country, when compared to other successful tennis countries [see Tennis Canada Report: European U12 Player Development by clicking here]. Ontario, by far, provides the greatest number of junior competitions, but even these are not maximized through a Canadian ranking system, which makes kids, their parents, and coaches leery of playing many tournaments, for fear of losing their ranking. Another thought is that quite often the best players, who are with national training programs, very seldom compete in domestic competitions, and as such, the necessary benchmarks by which other players with potential can assess their respective performance is absent.
The level of play appears to be better than, let’s say, ten years ago. This thought must be expanded to be understood properly. Overall, physical development and technical skills are much better than ten years ago. Tactical understanding of basic situations, i.e., attacking ¾ court balls is implemented far more frequently. One area, which seems lacking adequate development, is the ability to implement these new skills in pressure situations. Although mental training is on the upswing, the application of these skills in practical situation is the same, at best, compared to ten years ago. The real lost art seems to be the understanding of strategy. Players seem to be much more one dimensional than in the past, and do not seem to understand how to use their various tactics and apply their different techniques in situations where such changes are required. This reminds me a little bit of when I used to compare Quebec and Ontario players. Quebec players seemed to have better fundamentals, especially in technique, but Ontario players seemed to compete better. Quebec had better training programs and Ontario better competitive structure. Could it be that mental and strategic training is best developed in meaningful competitive opportunities? I think so. It is hard to create real stressfull situations in practice or to know how to apply strategy simply by doing drills, even competitive ones. Tennis is like poker; the ability to be strong mentally and to use different strategies based on the situation and the opponent, separates the champions from the other players – those who could be champions. Champions find a way to get the W.
It is interesting to note that coaches who have played competitively at a high level are usually better in strategic and mental understanding than coaches who have learned through coaching certification programs. Conversely, quite often coaches developed through coaching certification programs are better at teaching technical and mental skills than former high level competitive coaches, who quite often know what needs to be done but are not so good at teaching the required skills. As a player and a parent, you can then understand the need for different types of information, and quite often coaches at different stages of development. There are few coaches who have the ability or experience to offer a player the complete range of skills required to become a champion. This is one of the reasons why there are so few players who stay with a coach throughout their whole career…unless it’s a family member. And this is also why a team approach is often the answer to developing top players.
Other thoughts that came to mind:
a. The usual suspects [coaches] were there supporting their players:
i. Bill Cowan, Player’s Edge.
ii. Andrea Rabzak and Gary Muller, ORC.
iii. Peter Cameron and his coaches from TTA.
iv. Harry Greenan from Cambridge.
v. Bill Kovack, London.
vi. The ACE coaches.
b. Young, potentially great, National Coaches were there:
i. Dean Coburn. [Ok so Dean is not so young, but he is to me]
ii. Bruno Agostinelli. [great NCAA player]
iii. Aref Jallali. [former Tunisian Davis Cup player]
iv. Alex Gravina. [former top Canadian player]
c. Great tournaments were run:
i. White Oaks (love those rooms, great fitness).
ii. ORC (what a club!).
iii. Windsor (best hospitality).
iv. Cedar Springs (no rain).
v. Good tournament directors and officials.
d. Kartik Vyas, provincial coach, was good (actually great).
i. Taking care of the tournaments.
ii. Selecting the teams for nationals.
iii. Coordinating travel to nationals.
iv. Talking to players, parents, and coaches.
v. Being a roving umpire.
vi. Buying me a coffee (reason for upgrade from good to great).
e. Very good brothers and sisters combination
i. Obucina (one national center player).
ii. Baloescu (one provincial champion).
iii. Manji (2 provincial champions).
iv. Bednarczyk (2 top seeds).
v. Mboko (one sister and two brothers).
It’s a great time of the year, a great opportunity for all to test themselves, for coaches to reflect, to make small adjustments for the nationals, and to emphasize the right priorities for April, May, and June. For me, the following will be the priorities for our players at ACE Tennis:
- Fitness: getting our base to the next level.
- Individual strategies for closing out matches.
- Improved net play.
- Most importantly: pressuring on every opportunity on balls received at three quarter court, through hitting earlier, thus taking time and space away from the opponent, rather than simply using power.
On to the Nationals!