Written by: Casey Curtis
***Casey Curtis is a High Performance Coach and the Coach of Milos Raonic, the highest ranked man in the history of Canadian tennis, from the age 8-17. Today, Casey shares with the readers of ONcourt his views on the National Training Centre and the cooperation between Tennis Canada and the private sector.***
I thought I would chime in here with some thoughts on the subject. First of all, I would like to say thanks to Pierre for getting this conversation out in the open. I hope that we can all try to see both sides of the discussion. We are all certainly entitled to form and hold our own thoughts on this. I hope my comments don’t offend anyone. They certainly are not meant to do that. They are simply my opinion.
I think at times the title or term “National Centre” causes people to lose sight of what we are really talking about. It is the Coaches and Players along with the funds being invested that we are really referring to. So we have some top juniors training with coaches who are considered to be of the quality that can produce professional players. They do this at our National Centres.
There is really nothing terrible about that. I see the National Centre as one potential option for a top Professional Prospect in Canada. But in determining whether or not to send a player there, I would look at who the other players (training partners) would be and also who the coaches would be. Is there the right combination of competitive structure and coaching?
If I am working with an athlete who I believe could one day play Professional Tennis – I will work hard to provide the best possible coaching I can, as well as THE BEST POSSIBLE COMPETITION. When I feel that the competition side of the equation isn’t there – and that time will come earlier here than other places, as we don’t have too many players at a true international level – I will search out the best option which will allow that athlete to continue to move forward toward their goal of playing Pro Tennis.
I would look at the National Centre in Montreal as one option. I would also look at every other available option out there. I mean if you are searching for the best possible option for the athlete – why wouldn’t you look carefully at all of the available options, and then choose the best one?
I know that Milos feels his time in Spain practicing and playing matches with the top players there had a TREMENDOUS influence on his confidence and his play. So perhaps it would be a good idea to send our top prospects with one of our coaches to Spain or down to Nick’s place in Florida to train. Then they would have a Canadian Coach or at least one we had hired, and also have many great players (Professional Players) to train with, something not really available at the National Centre or anywhere else in Canada. This competitive aspect was my biggest concern when Milos was heading to the National Centre, and it remains a concern of mine today.
When Milos was 16, I had discussed his turning Pro and travelling with Fred Niemeyer on the tour. I felt that Fred would be a great mentor and that this would be a tremendous transition to the Pro ranks for Milos. I wanted Milos to be “training” with Professionals on tour rather than other “top” juniors or ex – pro’s – all of whom he could beat at a National Centre. I spoke with Fred about this in Montreal during the futures events at the time. I still believe today that had Milos turned Pro and traveled on tour with Fred, rather than going to the National Centre, he would be at least where he is now. It is interesting that Milos did work with Fred beginning a year or so after I had wanted him to.
I feel confident that it was this time with Fred, along with his playing with the professional players in Spain, that actually launched Milos on his way to where he is today. But it is obviously hard to argue too much with his current success. Vasek is also doing very well with Fred as his coach.
I would like to see Tennis Canada help with the funding of coaches who they feel can “get the job done”, and who may not want to work at one of the National Centres. I think this would deal with some of Bill’s concerns regarding the hit and miss aspects of sport – of which he is entirely correct. You don’t give the money to the players. You give it to the coach who is in the best position to determine how to invest the funds. If the coach doesn’t show results over a specified time period, you cut him/her off.
It is extremely expensive to bring a young athlete to the level where Milos or some of the others entered the National Centre. That money has to come from somewhere. If Tennis Canada is expecting independent coaches to develop its future stars, where they will take them away to Montreal at 15 or 16 and do that after these coaches have invested their own precious time and yes – MONEY, then why shouldn’t they (Tennis Canada) contribute to the funding of these athletes during these very important development stages (as Bob Brett so correctly calls them in the commercial).
I certainly want to congratulate Tennis Canada, the players, coaches and staff who have all worked so hard towards our current success. I would also like to congratulate all of the coaches not associated with the National Centres who are also working incredibly hard to try to build a true Canadian Empire in the World of Tennis. As well, let’s not forget all of the other coaches, teachers, volunteers etc. who are out there doing an amazing job of growing this wonderful sport at the recreational level.
I hope we can all continue to search for every possible avenue available so that we may continue to improve TOGETHER.