***Steve Mahar is a new Coach 2, as of December 2011, born and raised in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. As of January 2012, he is now the Technical Director of Tennis Newfoundland and Labrador and the Head Pro of Greenbelt Tennis Club. Steve was 8 years old, when he started playing tennis in the very short Newfoundland summers. He was 13, when he started to play one hour per week indoors, and 15, when he started to play 3 hours per week indoors and began competing at the Atlantic level. He was a good athlete as a child, but because of many factors (money, resources, etc) he didn’t really get to develop a strong game until age 19/20, when he began coaching year-round. Steve has been coaching for 9 years now, 4 as a recreational summer club instructor, 3 years part-time year-round and now these last 2 years full-time, as a new career path in a more competitive nature. ***
ONcourt: Congratulations on your new position. You must be quite excited with the opportunity?
Steve Mahar: Thank you! It’s definitely an exciting change and opportunity in my life. Since I started the job, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about how lucky I am to have this position at such a young age. Whenever somebody brings this topic up for conversation, I am reminded of my first instructor job at the Mt. Pearl Tennis Club at age 17 in ’02. Half way through the summer, I remember telling my friends about how awesome my summer job was and that if I could earn a living here in Newfoundland while working in the tennis business, I would be set for life. And here I am, not 10 years later doing exactly that!
ONcourt: What are your priorities for the next few years?
Steve Mahar: It’s a bit tough to answer that one specifically. There are many challenges where we are, and sometimes it feels like I don’t know where to start with the priorities. Organizing the priorities is priority number one at the moment.
I would say a big one for me, in order to build a strong and stable Newfoundland Tennis community, is to focus on building a wide and solid foundation. For me this means getting tennis into every single school within the next few years, which has started on a small scale with 5 local schools. Not via random school visits, but into their Phys. Ed. Curriculums. Visits have been done, showing short-term success in short attempts around the island in the past, but nothing has really stuck. Giving teachers the knowledge and equipment to run their own tennis classes is the only way it can ever sustain in the schools and get kids hooked!
Tied to that would be community tennis development across the island. There are courts all over the province in small towns, community centres, parks, etc. and, thanks to Tennis Canada, there is always a way to get the proper equipment into these places to allow them to get up and running. The only problem is finding people who really care and are passionate about the game to champion these activities outside the City of St. John’s. That is with the exception of Pat Redmond in Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador, who has put a racquet in the hand of every single child in Gander above the age of 5 over the last 5 years. The work that Pat has done and the trend that he has started in that town shows us what is possible and what can be created when someone simply cares about growing the game. Applause for Pat Redmond, Ladies and Gents!
Aside from the community and school development, we now have a great group of athletic under 10’s, who absolutely love to play. And they are learning early the value of hard work and playing in a focused environment. So, a major priority of mine will be to nurture their games as best I can to ensure that within the next 5 years we have at least 1 Newfoundlander in the top 5 of U12 or U14.
ONcourt: How do you reconcile your two positions?
Steve Mahar: Oddly enough, it’s proved to be quite easy. Tennis Newfoundland and Labrador has essentially partnered with Greenbelt Tennis Club (Newfoundland and Labrador’s only indoor club) to share me as their head technical person on both sides. It’s a similar position for Bruce Crichton, who serves as Tennis Newfoundland’s Executive Director and as Greenbelt’s General Manager. It has been attempted in the past a few times, but not without resistance and challenges. It wasn’t really until Derrick Rowe, Greenbelt President at the time, was elected president of Tennis Newfoundland, that all of the B.S. between the two organizations was flushed and the two were able to comfortably coexist. In fact, we now run the Provincial Association out of the club, allowing us to better maximize our resources and funding without fear of either organization suffering or being put second place in any situation. It makes my job immeasurably easier. Round of applause also deserved for Derrick Rowe and the common board members of Tennis Newfoundland and Greenbelt Tennis Club.
ONcourt: Do you think it’s possible to have the private sector (Greenbelt Tennis Club) and public sector work together like this?
Steve Mahar: Not only is it possible, it is absolutely the only way to do it in a place like ours. A place, where year round court time, highly experienced/trained coaches and money is so scarce… there is simply no other way but to have everyone work together, share their people, share their money, share their facilities and share all other resources. For those private club owners or sceptics out there, I assure you, it can all be designed in way that provides financial gain to the clubs in these ‘tennis isolated’ areas.
There has been a massive hit to participation and national competitiveness in New Foundland and Labrador and the Atlantic region over the past 10-15 years. In my opinion, without reconciled differences, left-at-the-door egos and a joint effort between members owned clubs and public (municipal or provincial) associations, you may as well forget about a rebound, college scholarships, national competitors, new clubs, grassroots growth and reviving our numerous Tennis Ghost Towns or TGT’s, as I like to call them. This applies to any town, region or province across the country.
ONcourt: How about conflicts of interest?
Steve Mahar: There certainly have been some. “Is Steve doing too many Greenbelt hours, not enough Tennis Newfoundland hours?”, “should those courts be billed to Tennis Newfoundland and Labrador or Greenbelt?”, “should this tournament money go to Tennis Newfoundland and Labrador or Greenbelt?”, “should this funding go to Tennis Newfoundland and Labrador or Greenbelt?”, “where can we train the provincial players?”…
Bottom line is: these are the problems that existed, when Tennis Newfoundland and Labrador (public) and Greenbelt (private) didn’t work together the way we do now. When trying to ‘rent’ courts, resources, manpower etc. to each other, too much time and energy is lost on who owes who what. It completely slows and interrupts the growth process in a place that has enough restrictions on it already. Again, it’s people, like Derrick and those others on the Greenbelt and Tennis Newfoundland and Labrador Boards of Directors, that should be recognized for creating this alliance between association and club, which, for the players sakes, should catch on in other regions with similar challenges.
ONcourt: Do you believe it’s possible to develop top 4 national players from Newfoundland?
Steve Mahar: Yes, it is possible, it has happened, and it’s only a matter of time until it happens again. I believe that right now, in comparing against top OTA players of the same age. We currently have some extremely talented U10’s with better support than they’ve ever had to develop their games. My goal is to have a top 5 U12 and/or U14 in the next 5 years (end of 2017).
With the merging of the two organizations and maximization of our available resources we are undoubtedly on the right path for creating national competition.