Pierre ‘The Bear’ Lamarche: “Nice Plan, But No Follow Up”


Written by: Pierre Lamarche

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***Pierre Lamarche has been an outspoken proponent of Canadian tennis and how the sport should have a major place in the Canadian sport landscape. He believes this lofty ambition can only be achieved through the combination of success on the international professional competitive scene, with the required domestic infrastructure and a true partnership between Tennis Canada and the tennis private sector.

His comments are often taken as critical by those who feel targeted by his questions. His background as a player, coach, and leader [see background] in the sport and coaching industry warrants that his views, which are shared by many others, be given due process by anyone [or organization] who really wants to help Canadian Tennis achieve the proper national status it deserves in the sport community.

He now starts in ONcourt a series of editorials which specifically provides thoughts for reflection on how to make Canada a tennis superpower.***

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My opinions often evoke comments that are personal in nature and which result in them being discarded rather than having them addressed on a rational intellectual level: “ Lamarche, you just don’t like Tennis Canada and you just complain because you are not involved and they don’t want your opinion.”

Well, first, let’s be clear, I like Tennis Canada; it is an unbelievable sport body that has been able to integrate their public relationship with Sport Canada with their corporate entity known as the operation of the Canadian Opens. There are many people there that I like, that I have coached, that I have worked with and that are like family. They are all good people. So what is my issue with Tennis Canada: One, I feel that they do not have strong leadership and vision in the player development area; two, that they have a plan that is severely flawed; three, that there has been no accountability of goals and objectives; and four, that they are so defensive, they can’t bring themselves to discuss issues in an open forum.

“Lamarche, stop talking in circles, what are you saying?”

What I am saying is that although we are getting more money in the game, tennis is still a minor league sport in this country and the reason for that is poor leadership from Tennis Canada. Let’s start with the example of the competitive infrastructure in this country. This is not an area which brings emotional discussions such as the role of the national training centres, the ongoing provincial regroupings, the lack of travel and training subsidies for high performance players not at the National Centres, the selection of players for the National Centres and the regroupings and most importantly, results compared to objectives [something called performance evaluation]. So let’s look at the competitive structure in this country which is a major component of the system for player and game development and see how Tennis Canada has managed this important area.

Following is the Tennis Canada Mission: “Tennis Canada shall lead the growth, promotion and showcasing of the sport of tennis in Canada, build a system that helps produce world-class players and foster the pursuit of excellence for all”. So it is clear that Tennis Canada shall lead in building a system which fosters the pursuit of excellence by all.

Tennis Canada developed a glossy Long Term Athlete Development Plan for Tennis Development in this country. Over 50 high profile individuals on 9 committees were involved in the development of this plan. Eleven reasons were given to justify the need for the LTAD plan, including:

  • Players tend to under compete and are not getting enough quality matches per year;
  • In many cases, the competition schedule [national and international] interferes with long-term player development. International players are very focused on chasing points as opposed to long term preparation based on a properly periodised plan;
  • Coaches largely neglect the optimal windows of training;
  • Training and competition planning is based on chronological age rather than developmental age.

In other words four of the eleven reasons given for the development of the LTAD plan were related to the competitive infrastructure of this country.

This was supported with a quote by Balyi et al.2005 “The system of competition makes or breaks an athlete”.

Tennis Canada recommendation was that good planning is critical for the overall development of the player. It was suggested that coaches and parents needed to review the overall calendar to schedule proper training and recovery to allow quality competition. As a result, this would optimize player development. The LATD plan went on to say that an optimal competition calendar planning would allow for the strategic development of the physical, mental, technical and tactical performances required to play tennis. It also recommended various amounts of completion for players at different ages, such as 15-20 competitions for females U14 and, that athletes play more frequently, participate in competitions and tournaments that help develop their game, not earn the most points, and include doubles. The plan also highlighted the number of matches recommended by LTAD for a certain stage of development, insuring adequate time for skill training and finally the need to play on clay court surfaces.

The LATD is supported by another Tennis Canada document “High Performance Long-term Plan-Pathway to Excellence” which shows specific system development priorities for a four year period as well as a 20 year period. Specifically, these were some of the measurable objectives of the plan:

  • To work with Tennis Development Centres and Provincial Tennis Associations to develop enough high performance competitive opportunities to meet the recommended competitive model match breakdown [LTAD plan];
  • To develop and maintain an integrated high performance competitive schedules with Provincial Associations;
  • To have an integrated national/provincial ranking system;

So let me get this straight:

  • Over 50 people and 11 committees agree that the system of competition is primordial to the proper development of the sport and the athletes in this country;
  • Specifically, there are number of tournaments that should be played at different stages of development in doubles as well as singles, on clay courts as well as hard;
  • Tennis Canada is responsible for the development of this infrastructure;

This was all written over the last ten years, OVER THE LAST TEN YEARS.

This is the competitive infrastructure situation in Canada in June of 2011:

  • Ontario has by far the greatest number of competitive opportunities for youngsters, but due to poor scheduling [i.e. summer nationals] and a flawed ranking system, which promotes not playing, hardly any players can meet the Tennis Canada standards of tournaments played;
  • Not surprisingly, Ontario had a disproportional amount of success at the indoor junior nationals this past winter, at the expense of BC and Quebec, both provinces which have a shortage of tournaments for players of all levels. This is due to facility access problems and both cannot meet the recommendations of the LATD plan. If BC and Quebec can’t meet the required standards, then you can imagine the situation in the other provinces [excluding Ontario]. In Ontario, one club alone runs more than 50 competitions during the winter season and has a major hand in the overall success of the competitive structure in Ontario;
  • The recommendation of more doubles and clay courts has been followed up with exactly no Tennis Canada initiatives except for the building of the white elephant clay court centre at Jarry Park. How can $3, 4, 5 million dollars invested in building four clay courts help the competitive infrastructure of this country? Better to give $100,000 to 40 communities to build four clay courts each.
  • We have a national schedule with national junior championships in early August, which force provincial associations such as Ontario to run selection events in May and June when players have had no time to train outdoors, when coaches must sacrifice the training period following the indoor nationals for competitive preparation, when players are preparing for final exams. Also a players summer competitive schedule is over after the first two weeks of July if they have not qualified for the nationals;

So, if the above is correct, are we achieving what was identified as essential in the LATD plan as it relates to the competitive infrastructure system? The answer is a simple no, not even close.

Who was responsible for identifying the competitive infrastructure as being of major importance in the development of the players and the sport in this country? Tennis Canada, of course.

Who was responsible for leading the Provincial Associations and the Tennis Development Centres on this improved path? Tennis Canada.

If objectives and goals are not reached, who should insure that this issue be addressed? Tennis Canada, of course.

So when I say that Tennis Canada:

One, does not have leadership or vision in the player development area;

Two, has a plan that is severely flawed;

Three, has no accountability;

Four, is so defensive that they can’t bring itself to discuss issues in an open forum;

Am I wrong? I do not think so. Should we have a plan to address these issues and shortcomings? Of course. Should Tennis Canada acknowledge their failure in addressing this important issue properly? Of course. Are they or are they not accountable? No as it relates to their private business component, the Opens, but yes as it relates to the development of the sport and its players in this country. Is there ways of achieving the stated goals? Yes, with the right vision and leadership, with the maximization of available funds and with the proper appropriation of resources to the project.

So, Tennis Canada, do not take this personally. If it’s wrong, it is easy to refute; if it is correct, meet your responsibilities and do something about it. This is about making tennis in Canada a major sport. Tennis Canada should live up to their responsibilities and make it happen. Start with solving an issue which you have identified as a major obstacle to sport and player development: the competitive infrastructure.

Related article: Robby Menard “The State of Canada’s Competitive Structure”

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