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.***
Casey wrote on 2012/08/10: https://oncourt.ca/?p=5151
Casey, thank you for an interesting article on a very important subject. But even more so, thank you for contributing to the wave of change in Canadian tennis that Milos and his successes are generating.
The core problem of High Performance tennis funding in Canada is in itself complex, and solutions may not be simple. There are issues of political will to fund sports in aging society in general, the issues of still remaining notion of “elitist” (non-egalitarian) nature of tennis in the mindset of the public at large, and the issue of the role of national institutions in growing talent.
Everyone involved in coaching any sport knows that in the development period 8 – 16, the early years require tremendous amount of work before the acceleration of physical growth occurs at puberty. And then it gets even harder.
But all that early work, usually 100% bankrolled by parents in Canada, is the riskiest part of the investment because you don’t know if the kid will stay with the sport, you don’t know if the kid will develop at the required pace and you don’t know how physically the kid will develop when he or she reaches maturity.
So it is the parents who take all the financial risk while the privately hired coaches invest their time and hopefully their emotional commitment to grow the small pool of young players hoping one or two will make it big. Most don’t, and that is also expected.
At some point, the national institutions kick in. Here come the grants, offers to relocate to train here or there, other incentives – but that all occurs:
a) LATE in the cycle, when the major risk of raising promising junior had already been mitigated (absorbed by parents);
b) in a SELECTIVE way, i.e. the national institutions pick and choose winners using their own criteria.
Original coaches are often left behind when the transition occurs, and that is the key point of Casey’s article. To me the problem is larger than the issue of isolating hardworking private coaches without compensation or even thank you for their years of effort.
For me it is all about discussing and agreeing on the mission and our collective expectations for the role national institutions should play in developing athletes.
Some within Tennis Canada had agreed in private discussions with me that funding the wider bottom of the pyramid of juniors (through funding privately or publicly delivered tennis programs) will yield tremendous results, but that is not how things are done in Canada today. It seems Canada made a decision to fund selectively much later on, pick-and-choose when the fruit is ripe and hope for the best.
The very existence of the Own-the-Podium organization and its model of funding aggressively those with medal potential in disconnect from forming the sustainable, long-term funded wide base is a clear indication of that strategy, which is fiscally very prudent (and economically opportunistic as well…) but won’t yield long-term results because it is not meant to.
Maybe part of that decision has to do with the fact that tennis in this country will never be the dominant individual sport due to reality of climate conditions. Even with per capital funding equal between say Spain and Canada (if we managed to do that), we will always be worse off because of 6+ months of forced indoor play and related conditioning challenges.
Flying promising juniors to Florida – as it’s done by many parents in Ontario and Quebec – can work only for a small group of those who can afford it, which breaks the model of building a very wide junior base at the bottom.
I think this discussion should continue amongst the supporters of competitive tennis in Canada.
Thank you once again for your contributions to this great sport, and thanks everyone for sharing their thoughts on this forum.