Written by: Michael Paduch
***Michael Paduch is President and Founder of the “Challengers” Tennis Academies of Canada Inc, a company he started earlier this year in Ottawa. Michael was born in Poland in the early 1970s, where he played for over a decade as a junior ending up eventually on a university tennis team overcoming a major leg injury due to a non-sports-related road accident. His tennis style from that era was based on the game of Stefan Edberg, whom he admired for his footwork, dominant serve-and-volley tactics, elegance and courtesy on court.
Michael returned to tennis after a long (too long…) time away from the sport and got involved in teaching: first as a sparring partner to several juniors, and later as a certified tennis instructor and a club pro. For those who know Michael well, they know it is hard to match Michael’s love for tennis. He enjoys teaching and playing with young and old, playing points or just rallying. Tennis added the missing sport dimension in Michael’s life, something he wants to give back to the community through his new company.***
It took over two years of significant research and planning, over seven months of negotiations on the use of courts and the financing requirements, but it is over now: Ottawa has a new outdoor location to grow competitive tennis teams and to provide families with a great place to play quality outdoor tennis.
Located on the site of Colonel By Secondary School in East Ottawa (Beacon Hill), the “Challengers” Tennis Academies leverages the classic public – private partnership model designed to bring quality tennis to a place that used to be a thriving community tennis club, and that had become, over the years, a place that desperately needed a new host ready to commit to major capital investment. We are excited about the opportunities our facility provides to aspiring and established tennis players: not only do we have seven tennis courts, four of which will have been resurfaced by the time you read this, but we also have access to a full-size running track on location.
City of Ottawa and Ottawa Carleton District School Board officials showed leadership and initiative in attracting private capital to the site in difficult economic times, when public expenditures are being reduced and public investments in tennis court repairs are increasingly difficult to justify. We applaud them for their exemplary service to the community, for supporting a project that is going to be a huge benefit to the local community.
The leaders of the previously active community tennis club also showed remarkable unity and support of the vision we put forward for the site by transferring the legacy funds towards the capital project thereby becoming a de-facto public co-sponsor of the project. This is a remarkable achievement showing that difficult capital investment projects can materialize, when the right people maintain open, constructive dialogue, listen to each other and are willing and able to find compromise where required.
As I write this story, four courts are receiving a blue-and-green facelift (in the style of the US Open courts) and we are happy to report that repairs to the facility fence have already been completed. If all goes according to our plan, all seven of our outdoor courts will be completely resurfaced by the end of 2013.
Where do “Challengers” fit in the Ottawa and Ontario tennis scenes?
As we state on our website, the “Challengers” is a private, for-profit organization created to provide outstanding tennis instruction and playing environment for players of all ages interested in life-long participation in the great game of tennis. It is as simple as that.
We design our programs and services to address the unique needs of all our players, regardless of age and ability. We start with, and strongly support, the progressive tennis (PT) programs offered to children as young as five years of age. We teach PT outdoor, at our Beacon Hill facility, and indoor, at select schools, all year round. Our progressive tennis program is designed to recruit children for our pre-competitive and competitive programs.
The “Challengers” pre-competitive and competitive programs are designed with the continual improvement of players in mind, pushing them to higher levels of mastery over tennis, both in daily competition on the courts, as well as in sanctioned tournaments. All streams are designed to reflect our philosophy that young children should participate in several different sports at a young age. Even though we are reminded on a daily basis that Ottawa is a hockey town, our goal is to have our athletes select tennis as ‘their sport’ by the time they hit their teens.
For adults, we offer recreational and advanced recreational programs to help players improve their game. We want to lead our adults towards finding and maintaining life-long enjoyment and satisfaction in the game of tennis. We offer tennis pro supervised group activities and lessons to improve the overall quality of tennis played on site and to offer higher value services to the members.
The overarching philosophy our academy is built upon is based on experiences of the founders and coaches, who grew up playing tennis in Europe and Canada, and whose approach to teaching and playing the sport is based on a holistic, complete-person approach. We believe that there is something for everyone in the great game of tennis and ensure that all students at the Academy benefit from tennis instruction, overall physical fitness and the positive reinforcement that we use while coaching our students. We pride ourselves on ensuring that players always understand not just how to hit the ball or where to place it in a given situation, but more importantly, why they need to do that. This emphasis on tactical education and deep understanding of the game of tennis enables our juniors to become more complete, more versatile and smarter players.
We are very proud of our modern, alternative operating structure at the academy. We feel one of the challenges that tennis in Canada faces is the traditional organisation of tennis clubs. Most clubs follow one of the two main operating models, either a community-funded, not-for-profit organisation, or a high-end club with expensive fees. The short-comings of both models are self-evident.
Not-for-profits, due to the very nature of the organisation and the reliance upon volunteers, often run into financing problems, when public grants are on the decline, as commercial banks do not see small non-for-profits in favourable light for commercial lending purposes; ongoing struggles with capital asset renewal projects are common, and so are difficulties putting quality programming together.
High-end, private clubs in affluent locations may not face financial difficulties, but they definitely have trouble reaching out to a wider base of youth due to high club and court fees that many families simply cannot afford creating an unfair, widely held impression in Canada that tennis is an “elitist sport”, a notion that certainly impacts efforts to attract youth away from other sports to widen the student intake base.
We must be clear: we do not think that either operating model is inherently wrong, as we know many clubs that are successfully operating in one of the two main traditional systems. However, we do believe that the “Challengers” model addresses the short-comings mentioned above allowing us to position ourselves somewhere in the middle offering a much-needed alternative to Canadian families, whose daughters and sons could play tennis but find it either difficult to afford in a traditional private club setting or not interesting or inspiring enough in a typical community club.
The “Challengers” sets very reasonable membership and training fees to interested members of the community. These membership fees are used to ensure that the courts are maintained and monitored providing the local community with a well-managed and safe location in an area that was previously not well-maintained and generally unsafe for advanced tennis use. Due to the collaborative nature of our business model, the improvements to the courts will benefit the entire community.
Commitment to affordable, quality tennis programming for the underprivileged in our communities
We fully realize that not all members of the community can afford to pay for quality tennis instruction. It is for this reason that we have entered into an agreement with the City of Ottawa allowing subsidised tennis instruction on our courts as part of the City’s Sports & Recreational seasonal programming.
To go even further to make tennis accessible to the wider community, we are providing training to individuals who cannot afford it. For every nine players registered in one of our competitive streams, we accept one underprivileged child that has a passion for tennis but lacks the financial means to play. He or she is accepted as a fully-fledged member of the team, no questions asked nor distinctions made.
We are building a program in the east end of Ottawa that will accomplish two things: be a base for high-performance tennis and an integral part of the community. There is something for everyone in the game of tennis, and we are striving to ensure that the maximum number of people find it at “Challengers” Tennis Academies.