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Pierre ‘The Bear’ Lamarche: “Time for the Old “Patellar Reflex”… Knee Jerk Reaction”

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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.***

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It’s time to revisit one of my pet peeves “The Rogers National Ranking System”. In place for over two years, the concept of a national comparative ranking system is a great idea from a political, business and marketing standpoint. From a political standpoint it’s a no brainer: a player from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan can be compared to a player from Chicoutimi, Quebec. What a great system to have all competitive players across the country able to feel part of the big Canadian tennis competitive family. The Provincial associations just had to love this concept proposed by Tennis Canada. It takes away their responsibility from operating their own system, defuses all the regional complaints about provincial systems: “It’s Tennis Canada’s system”, gives them credibility as being part of the system and brings them extra funding.

Extra funding? Of course, the entertainment arm of Tennis Canada does not give these national marketing opportunities for free. At the worst they attach them to other properties such as the Rogers and receive financial benefits that improve the transfer of payments to the provinces. This is, of course, Business 101 and Tennis Canada does this very well. You must understand it’s not hard to sell anything to the provinces, they need the financial assistance.

Marketing? Do you know how many tennis parents and players are obsessed by these rankings? They use it as a gage to see if their emotional, financial, personal investment in the sport is paying dividends. So then what am I complaining about?

Well, in my role as a coach, my responsibility is to recommend what I believe is right for the development of the players we oversee. Their parents have mostly one objective, to do what is right for their child. In fact, Tennis Canada and their tennis development department are not any different. They really want what is best for the kids and never would they implement knowingly something which is detrimental to the development of the sport and the youth of this country. But somebody was asleep at the switch: the present Rogers Ranking System is detrimental to the game, the players and as a result, to the sponsors and Tennis Canada.

Last summer in an article titled “Nice Plan, But No Follow Up” I mentioned that over 50 experts on nine committees had developed a Long Term Athlete Development Plan for Tennis Canada in 2006, which identified, amongst other reasons for Canada’s poor player performances, some of which were a tendency for players to under compete, not to have the required number of quality matches appropriate for their development, for parents not to be educated about a systematic approach to their child’s development, for over emphasis on immediate results and rankings, for coaches neglecting the optimal window of training and finally that training and competition was based on chronological age rather than a developmental one. Now remember this is published in a glossy manual called the LTAD plan which according to Tennis Canada is “a tool to motivate change toward an effective sport system and to enhance the development of tennis in Canada.”

The philosophy of the LTAD was supported by another Tennis Canada document called “High Performance Long-term Plan, Pathway to Excellence” which recommended having an integrated national/provincial ranking which would help develop competitive opportunities so that players could access the proper recommended number of matches in singles and doubles, on various surfaces.

Then introducing a great political, financial, marketing tool “The Rogers Ranking System” must certainly have to respect all of these well meaning concepts enunciated in the LTAD and the “High Performance Long-term Plan, Pathway to Excellence”. Unfortunately, it does not. The present system in place six years later:

  1. Does not stimulate more competition as players realize they can protect their ranking by not playing
  2. Does not foster the number of quality matches since the good players do not participate to again protect their ranking
  3. Does not educate parents about a systematic approach since parents question the wisdom of playing the recommended number of matches when the consequences will adversely affect the ranking of their child
  4. Emphasizes results and rankings rather than proper development
  5. Does not encourage coaches to look long term rather than short term [rankings]
  6. Does not differentiate in any way the competitive needs of players of various chronological or development age
  7. Has not created more doubles tournaments
  8. Has not developed tournaments on various surfaces

In other words, the event [the decision making arm of Tennis Canada] sold a ranking system which does not support the principles enunciated in Tennis Canada’s development department glossy position documents, which of course, have been ratified by the well meaning, poorly informed Council of the Provinces group. I’m sorry if you don’t see anything wrong with this, then you do not understand the responsibility of Tennis Canada to introduce a system which is positive to the development of our youth and the sport.

Tennis Canada claims it does not want to have a knee jerk reaction and do something drastic, like fixing the system [how would you explain that to the sponsors or to the provinces]. Better not to do anything, it might go away. As in most instances, where you like to bring improvements to our Canadian system [Tennis Canada believes it’s their system] intellectual masturbation prevails and explanations are hard to receive. That is, if you are lucky enough to have someone answer your concerns.

The Ontario Tennis Association whose players’ development and competitive opportunities are most affected by this system [too long to explain but believe me] agrees that the system is flawed, but just keeps on playing politics, “taking their money” without defending the rights of their players to have a system which is fair, scientific and meets the recommendations of the LTAD.

In case somebody tries to convince you that I am just a disgruntled Old Bear, please note that in BC they have maintained their old ranking system. This is what is posted on their web site:

“There are numerous ranking systems in use around the world, reflecting the various methods of computing points earned by players in a competitive circuit.   Each system has its own benefits and disadvantages, and what might work for determining the best competitor (i.e. professional athletes) may not necessarily be the optimal system for encouraging play in the developmental levels (i.e. juniors.).

Tennis BC’s ranking system for BC Senior, Adult and Open Players has been in place for several years, and works well to reward participation and acknowledge strong results in provincial and national events.

Beginning in 2012, Tennis BC will also produce and post BC rankings in singles and doubles for Junior Events.  This is the same system that has been successfully used for several years for our Open/NTRP and Senior tournaments.

Starting in 2009, Tennis Canada began using a Head to Head System [The Rogers National Ranking System] for all singles matches from Open and Junior Categories.”

What a well worded rebuttal of the Rogers Ranking system. It does not work for us and our players, so we will use our own system, but still send us the money as you can post our players’ names on your National system. These guys in BC are pretty smart. They get the money and do what they want. It’s always been one of BC’s assets: “We are on the other side of the Rockies, and nobody in central Canada cares what we do.”

Good for you B.C. Meanwhile, Ontario and the rest of the country keep on using the Rogers Ranking System which is based on the Quebec model [where the competitive game is suffering]. I just hope that the deal to have the National Centre in Montreal, the multi-million dollar clay courts [4 green clay] facility did not include their ranking system as part of the trade. Quebec has always been the smartest at playing the political game. I know, I have been part of it on both sides.

A New Reality By Nicolas Pereira

This past week in the World Team Tennis ‘Bubble” I have seen the efforts to keep everyone safe while carrying on a team competition with around 60/70 players and coaches onsite. Counting organizers, officials, media, and support personnel are around 150 people trying hard to make this happen. I am very impressed by how the strict protocol has been handled and how everyone is invested in making this event a success, but The Open is a completely different scale of details.

ONcourt Interviews NGTL Co-Founder Yves Boulais

It does not matter that you get your rating playing locally or that you had spent an insidious amount of money playing the ITF junior tour tournaments. Your rating is your level of play (you get no bonus for playing more or playing far away). This allows us to break free of the ITF competitive structure potentially saving us time, money, and headache. We see this as a great opportunity to improve the logistic of our sport.

Brandon Burke (son of ACE President Doug Burke) Elected to WTA Board

As revealed in a recent news release issued by the WTA Tour – Brandon Burke has been elected to the WTA Board of Directors (to start officially in September). Oncourt got together with Brandon to delve a bit more into his background and to gain some insight into this wonderful appointment he has attained at such a young age.