***Former President of Ontario Tennis Associaton and one of only two coaches to receive Ontario Tennis Association’s Diploma of Merit, Oluf Lauridsen has been a certified teaching professional for over 38 years. Tennis Canada Certified Coach 3/Club Pro 2 (one of 13 in Ontario & 21 in Canada certified at this level), Lauridsen is also former Director of Racquet Sports at Niagara Academy of Tennis in St. Catherines and former General Manager/Coach at All-Canadian Tennis Academy at National Tennis Centre in Toronto. He is presently Tennis Director & Head Senior Professional at The Club at White Oaks Resort and Conference Centre in Niagara-on-the-Lake.***
ONcourt: Over the years you have seen so much in tennis in your different roles, what has marked you the most?
Oluf Lauridsen: I am most proud of my work and involvement with the Club at White Oaks Resort and Conference Centre here in Niagara-on-the-Lake, where I have been involved for over 16 years now. In the early years, 1980’s to early ‘90’s, I and my associate Doug Carter did a lot of good work to establish White Oaks as “the” tennis centre in the Niagara Peninsula. From developing adult programs for all levels, including travelling competitive teams to hotel getaway packages, to establishing the biggest and best junior development program in the area. Frank Dancevic started here! We also began hosting Provincial and National Junior championships during that time. After returning to White Oaks a little over 3 years ago, I worked with Danny Da Costa in changing the staff and revitalizing all the programs, and when Danny left in October of 2010 to take up the position of Executive Director of Squash Canada, I took over again as Director of Tennis & Head Senior Professional.
I also felt strongly about what the Ontario Tennis Association should be doing with regards to junior development, coaching certification and promoting and helping clubs of all kinds to develop and grow the sport. To me it was simple: promote the game of tennis provincially; help clubs get established and guide them on how to be successful; give guidelines for setting up a successful junior development program and offer coaching certification programs that would get more competent teachers of the game available to the clubs so we could produce more and better players. So with my simple solutions in my mind I got involved with the OTA, first as a member of the junior development committee and then as chair of the committee; then chair of the coaching certification committee and was then asked to be President of the association skipping the traditional vice-president position before becoming the president. Unfortunately, things don’t always work out the way you thought or want when others have to be convinced that your ideas will work or grow the sport. Politics and self-interests always seem to raise its head in these situations. It was a good learning experience!
I also enjoyed my 3 years working as a coach and manager with Pierre Lamarche, Ari Novik, Louis Cayer and the great staff we had at the time at All-Canadian Tennis Academy at the National Tennis Centre. It was a tremendous experience in which I learned so much in all aspects of this business as well as personal development and I would like to thank Pierre again for that opportunity!
ONcourt: Why do you think there is always a certain climate of dissatisfaction between parents, players, coaches and associations?
Oluf Lauridsen: I think for the most part associations are in a “no win” situation as they have to look at the big picture and deal with the growth and development of the sport as a whole, and a big portion of that focus is used on revenue generation through securing sponsorships, government funding (which is becoming less and less), user fees for programs and services, etc., in order to have sufficient funds to do anything for their members and/or constituents.
For us as parents, coaches or players, we take a more selfish point of view in that we want instant gratification. As parents, we want what’s best for our child/children as long as it gets them to their perceived goal or objective quickly; coaches want what’s best for their student/player but are always under the constant pressure of the parent(s) who want results quicker and the discouragement of the student/player if results are not coming as they or their parents expect; as a player/student, we are also under tremendous pressure to improve, develop and get results quickly and for most this is not a healthy or conducive environment for learning to love the sport for a lifetime and become the best you can be. An example of what this has brought about is the new competitive opportunities that Tennis Canada and the Ontario Tennis Association have introduced this year – the U9 & U10 Future Stars Advanced Tours. The purpose of these were to give younger players more appropriate age-based developmental competitive play opportunities to augment their overall development program. However, having run some of these and seen the way some parents behave and, as a result, their children behave when playing, I have come to the conclusion that some changes need to be made to these events. I have never seen so many bad line calls, incorrect scoring in the favour of the more aggressive player or attempts at intimidation as I have seen at these events. In other words, some are being taught to win at all costs by their parent(s) and/or coach. I have to ask these questions:
- At this age (6-9) is there any significance or importance for these players to win these events and down the road who really cares who won what at this age?
- Are these events not supposed to be opportunities to learn to play and compete fairly giving a 100% effort at all times and most importantly to have FUN?
- Why does the OTA and Tennis Canada offer a $700 iPad2 to the winner of the Tour? Is this really necessary to encourage players at this age to participate and learn to compete?
So yes, there will always be dissatisfaction amongst parents, coaches and players and the easiest to blame are the sport governing bodies or associations because it is never OUR fault!
ONcourt: You have always been a fair level headed person. What would you like to see happen in Ontario and Canadian tennis for us to have better success?
Oluf Lauridsen: The simple answer is to get more people playing our great lifetime sport and particularly a lot more children at an early age. The more complicated answer is how do we do this? I do think that we have an opportunity right now to take advantage of the success of some of our young tennis stars and particularly the success of our young professionals, Milos Raonic and Rebecca Marino, who have created an interest and buzz amongst our juniors and all of our tennis players and fans in general and much more media attention then we have had for our sport for some time.
Here are a few ideas I think would get us to have more success:
1. More talent ID clinics held in elementary schools for children aged 5-7. We need to identify potential talent at a young age and give them the opportunity to access a well-established program before we lose them to other sports such as hockey, soccer and baseball, although participation in these sports, particularly soccer, basketball and baseball, can be useful for their tennis development but we have to make tennis part of the mix.
- Support those clubs and programs that have the facility and staff to implement these programs so that they can be offered for a very low cost to participants.
2. We need to establish a more in-depth training and certification program for introductory programs (Instructor) and make it more important with more recognition as this is the most important time age-wise and retention-wise. Currently, in most programs the least trained and experienced instructors are used in these programs when we should have very experienced and specialized instructors/coaches doing these to ensure consistency and age specific biomechanical principals are being followed and appropriate skills are being taught while making sure that this is all done in an atmosphere of FUN.
3. At the other end of the scale, provide more competitive opportunities for our best junior players and future professionals by offering more ITF and Future Events in Canada at facilities that have the expertise and experienced staff to run such events so that young players from around the world will come here to play and our players do not have to travel as much to get the competition experience that they need. The cost of travelling outside the country is prohibitive for some players putting them at a disadvantage by not being able to compete at the level required as often as needed.
ONcourt: What has tennis meant to you and your family?
Oluf Lauridsen: I was introduced to tennis in Canada at the age of 13 in the small town of Mt. Forest and immediately loved the sport and started competing mostly in Toronto, London and Southampton areas and became good enough to be ranked in the top 10 in Ontario under 18. I also started teaching in the summers at my home club in Mt. Forest and then in Leamington and St. Catharines in the early 70’s. It was at the St. Catharines Tennis & Raquets Club that I met my wife who was also a tennis player and played for many years until she injured her hip. Our son Erik participated in junior tennis programs from the age of 5 to around 12 but was not that interested in the competitive aspect of the game but enjoyed the social and still plays occasionally today.
Tennis is my passion… I have enjoyed the competitive aspect of the game and found even more enjoyment teaching and coaching students both young and old (3 ½ to 82 years of age) to play this wonderful lifetime sport. I feel extremely fortunate to have been able to be involved in tennis at all levels as a player, coach and administrator, and make a living doing something that I love doing and be able to do it for nearly all of my working life. Tennis and those I teach and work with keep me young!
ONcourt: Why has the Niagara region developed so many good international level players? Is it the wine?
Oluf Lauridsen: I think there is a culture and history of tennis in the Niagara region which has kept the interest in the game of tennis high over the years. In July of 1900, the Canadian Tennis Championships were held in Niagara-on-the-Lake on beautiful grass courts with the title being competed for by W. A. Larned and Beals Wright both from the United States and in doubles Fischer & Hackett vs. Whitman & Wright. William A. Larned and Beals Wright were also to become U.S. Open Singles Champions. From these historic beginnings, tennis in the Niagara region has produced some very good players, including Gordon Robinson (Canada’s 1939 Davis Cup Team), Sandra Sutton (O’Doherty), Steven Whitehead, Marianne Groat, Frank Dancevic, Bruno Agostinelli Jr., Zach White and his father Gil White who competed for Canada in International Senior events.
I would like to say that the main reason the Niagara region has produced so many international level players is because of the great clubs, programs and coaches in the area but I think you may be right… the secret is in our wine! Cheers…skol…salut!