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Pierre ‘The Bear’ Lamarche Answers Readers’ Questions and Comments

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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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AJ: The Director of Niagara Academy of Tennis is scared in her post. Wow, she is not only frightened but becoming nasty. Tennis Canada has produced Milos Raonic, now they want to invest more in Canada’s Tennis juniors by providing facility, like USTA. Lezlie Murch, you have no right to call Tennis Canada impotent, it is just showing your state of business affairs. USTA has produced Jack Sock. Please behave when you see your competition. Being the father of Junior Tennis player, I welcome this decision of Tennis Canada.

The Bear: First of all, no offense, but who is Jack Sock? A kid from Nebraska, who is 19 years old with a 332 ATP singles ranking. He was not developed at the USTA training center, but in Nebraska. But you are right in your comment that she reacted to her competition. There should not be any competition between the private and public sector, only cooperation. Then, by maximizing our Canadian resources we will have a chance to succeed.

Mark Paddon: Competition is healthy. I suggest you offer programs for talented players that are heavily subsidized.

The Bear: I think everyone agrees that competition amongst private clubs and academies is healthy. The problem is when competition occurs between the public sector (Tennis Canada) and the private sector (academies and clubs). The problem is magnified, when Tennis Canada uses public funds to compete with the private sector that develops the players for them. This is somewhat similar to killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. It becomes really a problem, when the competition is structured in a way that mostly only players from the public academy can receive funding for international travel. Then, if rankings at Nationals are based on international results, you can see that this system becomes completely unfair. All clubs and academies offer scholarships, some in excess of $100,000.

Bob: Actually, Casey Curtis developed Milos! He was 17 when he went to Montreal.

The Bear: You are correct, Casey Curtis did develop Milos Raonic untill he was 17. Louis Borfiga and Guillaume Marx of the National Center in Montreal must be given the credit for convincing him to try the pros, rather than the US university he had committed to in Virginia. In the next period of development, he spent a lot of time on the road, competing, learning his craft on clay courts, as well as hard, before finally moving on to Spain. This transition to the pros was due completely to Tennis Canada’s management and financing. In other words, Tennis Canada took a good prospect at the age of 17 and provided him with the proper opportunities. Nobody can disagree with this and the fact that Tennis Canada should do this.

Alastair Millard: Lezlie, I was interested to read your article and appreciate the time you took to write it. I respectfully disagree with some of your thoughts about Tennis Canada’s training center. I think it’s a little like comparing apples to oranges when what we are talking about here is a not-for-profit organisation, like Tennis Canada, and a for profit organisations, like NAT, TTC or TTA. What Tennis Canada is doing is trying to give players that they see as having the most potential, the opportunity to succeed. They have the funds to do so and if they didn’t, then maybe some players would never get the chance that they are getting now. These are financial opportunities that I feel your academy or other for profit academies would not be able to offer. If a player from your academy was given the chance to go train at the National Center, would you want them to go? Lastly, you write “then let the competition begin!” What competition are you referring too? I do not mean any of my comments or questions to come off as rude, I’m interested to understand more of your thoughts, and you know, I love you guys out in Niagara.

The Bear: Of course, Tennis Canada should provide the competitive and training opportunities to talented players. The question is: “If that player is training in a proper environment, like Bollettieri in Florida, should he be entitled to receive the same touring opportunities, as a player training at a National Center? If a 14-year old player is in an environment, which is good for his development, with a Tennis Canada certified coach, willing to work with the assistance of national coaches, should he be entitled to receive financial assistance from Tennis Canada for tournament travel and for extra lessons with his coach? The environment a child grows up in can determine greatly his future well-being. All things being equal, why would you want to uproot a youngster from his coach, friends and family?

Hiroud Akhavan: I think the training centre is a great resource to Canadian tennis and my thoughts are similar to Alastair Millard. The bottom line is “for profit” academies have yet to demonstrate they can provide the opportunities that TC is able to at this point (travel, training, environment, sport science). Being a former national champion, I can definitely relate to the difficulties I experienced in finding the right training environment I needed, and can surely say many top Canadians from the past would have benefited greatly from having the centre. I can understand the concern of various academies, and there should be a solution in keeping the player’s private coach involved or at the minimum, receive recognition, but the most important thing is to do what is best for the player. Without these significant opportunities it will be difficult for a player to reach their full potential. In light of recent international results from NTC players, I would think so far the system has fared well. Lastly, please consider, if Milos Raonic did not transition to NTC and continued training at the Toronto Cricket Club until 19-20 while trying to make it professionally … would he be where he is today? Maybe it would be best to ask him?

The Bear: There are a few points that need to be addressed: Peter Polanski, Frank Dancevic, Philip Bester, Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil are all products of the private sector, as Milos was until he was 17.  Approximately twenty Canadian players in the last 20 years in the top 200 ATP or WTA have been developed in the private sector. Girls side, Dubois, Fichman, Marino – were all developed in the private sector.  Nobody questions that the National Center is a great resource and that Tennis Canada should be involved in providing all the required services, only whether all deserving players should be able to access them regardless of where they train. Many believe cooperation is a better and more cost efficient way to achieve the same objectives, without creating dissension. Your comment on Milos is addressed above. He was developed until 17 years of age in a private club. Players of that age certainly should be assisted in their transition to the pros by Tennis Canada or whoever can provide the required services. Of more interest would be the question of how you would have felt as an Under 14 Champion if you would not have been selected for the National Center, because you did not meet certain subjective criteria. You should note that Frank Dancevic, your age, and Peter Polansky, younger, who were both from Ontario and of your generation, did make it to the pros.

The TennisMind: I have seen a girl who demonstrated unbelievable athleticism at 8 year old and had very good tennis skills for her age. That girl was picked by Tennis Canada for intensive training program. But when she was 11 year old, Tennis Canada decided that she was not good enough and dumped her out of its program. Now, why would you do that to an 8 year old kid. There are plenty of examples like that, where 10 year, 11 or 12 year olds are being dumped by Tennis Canada. This is kind of cruel to treat young children like that! And yes, you can defend your NTC style of trainings for producing a Milos Raonic or a Jack Sock. But, really? Do your research properly, Raonic and Sock were developed by private coaches and they were only being cherry picked by NTC in their late teens to help them transition to pros! This is my point, NTC should use its resources to help the best 14 and older players transition to pros and it should have no business training kids younger than 14 year olds! Any kids younger than 14 year old should be trained by private coaches or academies, as this is a very important phase in a kid’s tennis life and only a private coach can develop that important initial bond and trust with the student. This is a period, where the kid develops love for the game, proper techniques, etc. NTC should only get involve at a later stage, when the student is older than 14, by using its resources to help the student transition to pros. Also, it is very important that Tennis Canada uses its resources properly to create more international junior or entry tournaments in Canada to allow our juniors to compete with the best right here in this country, instead of using the funds to send its under 14 selected few players to compete abroad. Imagine if we have our own version of Canadian Orange Bowl for Under 12 and Under 14 right here in Canada!

The Bear: The segregation and profiling of young players is one of the most troubling side effects of the present identification system of Tennis Canada. The same results can be achieved through a more inclusive system, which would respect the recommendations for the fostering of self esteem in youth. I also agree with you that policies for U14 players (pre high school) should be different than for transition players (after high school) over 17. The high school period should provide a hybrid system of cooperation between the private (training) and public sector (regrouping and touring). Your comments on the need of a proper cost-efficient competitive schedule highlight the greatest area of need in this country.

Alex: Hi Pierre, my question is out of the scope of this article but I hope it can be answered by you. I am looking at U16 Junior Nationals draw. In the round of 64 I see 28 byes. My question is: “Why those byes could not be filled up with players?” If there is proportional province representation and some provinces can not fill up their teams, why those spaces can not be divided between other provinces, who could send more young players? I think it would be in best interest of young players. I think that if we care about players development, it is very important that as many players as possible compete on national level playing each other. This opportunity comes only twice a year and it is very frustrating to see those wasted opportunities.

The Bear: Thanks, Alex. This is a difficult question to answer. Yes, it would be great to have larger events, but the format of doubles and consolation limits the size of the draws given time and court constraints. It should be noted that a few provinces did not fill their allocated spots at the recent Under 16 Nationals, which were taken mostly by Ontario and Quebec. As many coaches and administrators have commented on, the tournament structure for tennis in Canada is in dire need of revamping. The greatest obvious change must occur with the summer scheduling of Nationals in early August, which translates in Provincials being held in early July and Selection events held in May and June. Outdoor tennis starts in some part of Canada in middle May, so the kids don’t have time to adjust to outdoor play, must play Selections during preparation for finals exam and finally, play the Provincials the first day of summer vacation [in Ontario]. If a child does not make the Nationals, his competitive peak is the first week of the summer, when it should be in the last week. The summer competitive period and its preparation is a major development tool which is not maximised with the present schedule.

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