Bill Cowan: Players Edge Zen Leader


***Players Edge Tennis Program was created in August of 2001 by former ACE Academy coaches Marc Assaraf and Bill Cowan. They took over the former ACE site at the National Tennis Center at York University. In 2004, they were granted permission to rent the courts at the new Rexall Centre. There the program expanded by 50%, which included such players as Peter Polansky, Nathaniel Gery, Katarina Gajic, Justin Jendruch, Tommy Mrozciewicz and others.

Between 2006 and 2010, other players who attended the program were Carol Zhao, Brayden Schnur, Gloria Liang, Gracia Mboko, David Volfson, Lauren and Devin Chypyha and others. We visited Owner and President Bill Cowan recently.***


ONcourt: Bill, tell us about your philosophy for Players Edge?

Bill Cowan: Players Edge has strived for excellence in the development of Canadian Tennis in a program, which holistically integrates psychological, physical and technical components in a game-based (tactical) environment. Competitive game-based drills are the backbone of our training. We train various all-court situations within tactical themes based on periodized training methods. Our coaches use a cooperative style of coaching, which helps with the retention of learned skills.

ONcourt: Bill, you played and coached on the ATP tour, as well as represented Canada in international competition. Can you tell us about your own junior development?

Bill Cowan: I started tennis at Howard Park TC coached by my dad Harry. I started winter tennis at age 15 at Cobblestone courts in Mississauga. My biggest improvement came when I started playing open (men’s) tournaments around Ontario at age 16/17. At 18 I played Junior Wimbledon and Junior US Open.

In 1978, at age 18/19 I decided to try the “tour” which was the USTA satellite in Florida. It was a very tough 5-6 week tour featuring many top 100 players and a 128 or 256 qualifying draw (there were not very many ATP tour events at that time). I got my butt kicked every week, but I played over 25 singles matches in 5 weeks because they had mid-week prize money tournaments (a mini-circuit for the losers). In 1979, I went to Europe on my own for almost 5 months, starting off on clay and finishing indoors in Holland. I got my first ATP point on the Swiss satellite, and that helped me to avoid the qualies in many events.

My early playing style was an aggressive baseliner with a big serve and forehand combo. My slice backhand provided a natural change of pace and was accurate enough to set up the forehand, but was weak for counter-attacking. After changing to oversized racquets in 1980, I went to the net much more, using serve and volley and return and volley tactics often. I reached #225 in 1982, but some bad scheduling decisions and lack of money kept me mostly in Canada for the next few years.

In 1985, I met someone in Montreal who guided me toward the spiritual side of life. He gave me a book called “Zen and the art of Archery”, a classic in Philosophy. Immediately a light went on, and I started to apply meditation to my life. I also read “The Inner Game of Tennis”, and that helped with visualization and understanding the inner critic that is in all of us. At the start of 1986, having only 2 ATP points, I decided to go on tour again. I went to Italy (indoor) and was the second last player into the qualifying of the first tournament of the winter satellite. I was a bit nervous not having played a match for a few months, but I had lost all fear of losing. The “Zen mind” which I was starting to cultivate, kept me in the “here and now” on court. I became a net rusher, serve and volley, return and volley as much as possible. You know that line in “Caddyshack” where Chevy Chase says “Be the Ball”, well it’s true. You lose the ego and become “one” with the ball and opponent. Your reactions become quicker, and you start to know your opponent’s moves. You don’t take losing a point personally and just let everything go. It is the zone, the holy grail of sports where effort is effortless and outcome is irrelevant. Time stands still, and you love to compete no matter what happens. I realized that accessing the “zone” is the key to peak performance, but you can’t “try” to be in the zone. It is a result of being in the present moment, the “Zen mind”. I was able to win 3 out of 5 tournaments, and moved from #800 to #270 in 5 weeks. Injuries got the better of me that year, but I ended the year at #207.

ONcourt: How did you get into coaching, and did your wide range of experiences help formulate your coaching philosophy?

Bill Cowan: I started to coach tennis after running out of money at Downtown TC, NYTA and Richmond Hill CC. I started my Coach 3 certification, then got an opportunity to coach in Japan.

In the 7 years that I was there, I was fortunate to have many coaching and learning experiences. I learned from many coaches, including Pierre Lamarche, Louis Cayer, James Loehr, Jack Groppel, Richard Schoenborn, Rick Macci and many others through ITF workshops and seminars. Also, at our tennis centre was a biomechanist and expert fitness coach whom I learned extensively from. This helped me understand the technical aspects of the game while putting it into a tactical framework. The zen training which I continued, helped me understand what type of mindset is needed to transcend the ego and reach one’s full potential. After coming back to Canada, I started to work at All-Canadian (ACE Tennis) and got right back into the High Performance player development. The academy site was given to myself and Marc Assaraf from Pierre Lamarche and Ari Novick. Players Edge Tennis was born! We moved to the Rexall Centre in 1994. My coaching philosophy is to develop all skills so that all tactics can be used. Mentally, we need to always make our best effort no matter the score, but to remain calm, centered, present and maintain a process focus.

ONcourt: We cannot talk about Bill Cowan and coaching without talking about the spiritual aspect and beliefs in your life. How do you see this translating in the work you do with the youngsters?

Bill Cowan: I have realized for a long while now that coaching young players is an opportunity for me to help them achieve the incredible potential that is “trapped” inside everyone. My late father used to say: “You have to eat, sleep and drink tennis”. Nowadays we just talk about the 10,000 hour rule. Hard work is not so hard when you have passion and dedication.

There is also such a thing as “trying too hard”, which is having too much of an outcome focus. A balanced approach is best. Having your goals and outcome objectives, but maintaining presence, calmness and intensity while in action.

I coach in Junior Development and High Performance to use the knowledge and experience that I have been so lucky to collect. I wish to pass this on and help to provide some “shortcuts” for the journey, and hope we can all find joy along the way.

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