***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.***
It is one thing to point out the shortcomings of a system or vision as I do repeatedly in my articles as it relates to Tennis Canada’s direction and leadership. I believe strongly in an inclusive vision as I personally believe that cooperation and teamwork is the only way to achieve our objectives. This article provides some insight on how I think we could develop the sport in this country. We should reflect on these suggestions, as well as welcome any others that might benefit the growth of the sport in this great country. The people of Tennis Canada are well meaning and efficient people. The problem is the structure of the corporation, the vision for development and the lack of leadership in addressing these problems.
You might believe that the following exercise is unrealistic or simplistic. But I can only tell you that what I have learned as a player, a coach, a captain, a business leader, an administrator and a parent, is that if you clearly state your vision, establish a rationale for it and get your players, parents, children, staff or team to ratify it, then you have a chance to make the right decisions along the way, be able to get everyone to buy into the dream and create the proper synergy by harnessing all the required resources.
Our dream, for many of us, is to make tennis a major sport in the landscape of physical activity in our country. The reason we believe that this should happen is that tennis is a great sport, which helps foster values that parents want in their children. It is a sport of a lifetime that can help develop the quality and the fabric of our Canadian society by being a sport, which is played by people of all cultural backgrounds and ages.
If we believe in this concept of fostering the growth of a sport, which is beneficial to our youth and our society, then we should make decisions based on what is best for the development of the popularity of the sport in our country. Popularity should be described first by the number of people playing the sport, the number of people involved in it [volunteers, officials, administrators] and finally, people viewing it as spectators.
What we need is a vision, which the ultimate goal is to render tennis a major sport in this country. How would you achieve this? You would have a chance of reaching this objective if you made decisions on major policies based on a set of accepted priorities. Here are some priorities, in the proper order, which most believe can provide a framework for decisions:
- Recruiting children to the sport and getting them interested in staying in the game
- Doing what is right for the kids of all levels so they learn to appreciate the sport and as a result, bring their future family and friends to the sport
- Foster the development of opportunities for more teachers, volunteers and coaches in this country. These are the people in the trenches who are ultimately responsible for keeping people into the sport
- Establish a country wide initiative for developing more facilities, more clubs in all communities
- Develop partnerships with the public and private sector to create affordable entry level and development programs
- Maximize all operational, administrative, financial and human resources in this country
If you understand the history of the sport in this country, as well as the constraints associated with it and the assets at our disposition, then, with a clear vision and the proper leadership, you might have a chance at making tennis a major sport in our landscape.
The building of one facility in Nova Scotia or British Columbia and four clay courts in Montreal is not what we need to grow the game. We need 50 centers in 50 communities each with 4 courts [red clay], built in conjunction with the public or private sector with the opportunity for year round tennis with a bubble, also done in partnerships with the same private and public sectors. The proper programming by Tennis Canada, supported by the proper marketing, could create 300 new full time coaching jobs and help introduce the sport in various new communities besides our major urban centers. Think of where some of our great hockey athletes came from: Sidney Crosby, Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, etc. Our tennis athletes basically come from major urban centers.
Unfortunately, the self centered, ill-advised Tennis Canada approach of developing the sport through creating a major male payer is completely self serving, financially irresponsible, and has never been proven to work.
- Borg did not create the Swedish infrastructure, it was there before
- Lendl did not create the Czech infrastructure, it was there before
- Becker did not create the German infrastructure, it was there before
- Vilas did not create the Argentinean infrastructure, it was there before
- Sampras, Courier, Agassi, McEnroe and Connors did not create the American infrastructure, it was there before
- Rios did not create the Chilean infrastructure, it was there before
- Nadal did not create the Spanish infrastructure, it was there before
- Federer did not create the Swiss infrastructure, it was there before
- Djokovic did not create the Serbian infrastructure, it was there before
By the way, not ONE of these players was developed at a NATIONAL TRAINING CENTER.
In Canada we have had world Champions in other sports [Jacques Villeneuve], which spiked interest in motor racing but certainly did not increase participation in the sport. Susan Nattrass from Medicine Hat, Alberta, won World Shooting Gold without any effect on participation in the sport. How many Olympic Gold medals have we had in track and field and swimming without long term growth in participation? Short-term interest was the result, not long-term growth. So why do we think it will be different for tennis? If we do not have the proper infrastructure [courts, programs, coaches] to welcome those that become interested in the sport all across this country, we will fail. Let’s not kid ourselves. My good friend, former curling World Champion Colleen Jones, once remarked: “Curling has a better infrastructure in Canada than tennis”.
The English have been chasing their Wimbledon Champion Dream for over 75 years. Two of their three top world ranked players over that span were not even developed in England: Rusedski in Canada and Murray in Scotland and Spain. The third one, Tim Henman, certainly was not the product of a National Center either. This same vision of creating The Male Champion has been adopted in the US and here in Canada. England and the US have ten times the money we have and cannot succeed. What are our chances when we adopt a philosophy, which has proven to be negative to two countries with tennis history and money to burn as owners of a Grand Slam?
Do you think the top players of today were developed by being forced to learn the game a certain way, play with certain balls, being forced to train in certain places with certain coaches or by having no access to clay courts? Of course not. This sport is dynamic, evolving, requiring creative approaches to player development. Tennis is as much an art as a science. Imposing systems rather than suggesting options reflects a poor understanding of the creativity required for this wonderful sport. Tennis Canada should be providing the infrastructure to the sport and leaving the development to its partners in the field. It certainly should assist but not mandate.
I have mentioned repeatedly that Tennis Canada has lost its way. The overall leadership of the business aspect of Tennis Canada has done an UNBELIEVABLE job over the last two decades in surviving the loss of sponsorship from the tobacco companies, the need for increased prize money to retain the major status of the Open, the excessive capital expenses required for the upgrading of the tournament facilities in Montreal and Toronto and the raising of funds for development activities.
Unfortunately, their ability to operate a successful business does not necessarily translate into an understanding of the vision required to grow the sport. This is especially true when the financial needs of the business side affect pure development decisions. No one really believes that Tennis Canada decided to put a National Center in Montreal because it was right for tennis development. It was put there to facilitate the financial contribution of both the provincial and municipal governments in Quebec and Montreal. It was a political decision based on financial need. It had nothing to do with what is best for the development of the game. Tennis Canada got the money, but tennis development got the shaft. Building a $5+ million four clay court facility in Montreal was a waste of Quebec and Montreal taxpayers’ money, but worse, insured that Tennis Canada would not alter its direction or philosophy due to their obligation to Montreal and Quebec. Tennis development and the rest of the country are not priorities here and have been sold out.
The selling of the vision for the proper development of the sport should never be prostituted to get the 10 to 15 million required for the upgrading of the Jarry Tennis center, as it was done. I was part of the team, as the initial Tournament Director [recognized by the Rogers Hall of Fame], that built the original center in Montreal. Back then, over 25 years ago, it was done for the sponsorship [tobacco industry] money, but no strings were attached for development – only increased funds. Now it has all changed. Development is being sold out for the capital funds required for the event. That is why Tennis Canada [development] needs to be independent from Tennis Canada [The Rogers and non-development events, i.e. concerts]. When Tennis Canada development will manage its own destiny, its assets [Team Canada, wild cards, other tournaments], then decisions will be made in function of what is right for the game, the players, the coaches and the volunteers.
Until then, the well meaning Tennis Canada business arm will run a great Open, will make more money, get more capital government subsidies and keep on influencing the development of the sport in a misguided fashion. When Michael Downey, President of Tennis Canada, came to power, he provided his staff with a book, whose title, unfortunately, escapes me, which basically had as a theme of putting the right people in the right places. Having the bus driver in the back seat is not the correct way to get the bus to the destination. Tennis development occupies the back seat of its own bus.