By: Craig Mercer
*** Craig Mercer is currently the Director of Operations at Ace Tennis and the Head Coach of the High Performance Competitve Training program. Ranked as high as #3 in Canadian Junior tennis Craig competed in more than 20 Junior Nationals for Team Atlantic and Team Quebec. Craig has a Master of Sports Management, is a Tennis Canada Coach 2 and has a deep interest in the growth and development of our sport in this country. As the Team Ontario Coach for the recent u16 Outdoor Nationals in Laval, Quebec, ONcourt asked Craig to share his thoughts on the event. ***
It was an absolute pleasure to be a part of the the u16 Nationals in Laval this summer. Irfan Shamasdin and I were the Team Ontario coaches for 27 OTA players. ONcourt asked me to provide some insight into the event. I will discuss the players, the parents, the tournament, and make a few suggestions on how the Nationals could be an even better tournament for our players and coaches.
It was clear that proper tennis etiquette and sportsmanship were lacking at the u16 nationals. The number of overt bad line calls, taunting, threatening, and pure disrespect for opponents and the game was very disappointing.
In one instance, a player actually pushed another and made a threatening comment. I did not actually witness the event, but many coaches, players, and parents did, including the roaming referees. Logically, the player was immediately defaulted and kicked out of the tournament; this is what you’re thinking, right? No, in fact, the player was merely given a point penalty! I was baffled. I could not believe it. How could the roaming referees not deal with this properly? How was this player allowed to continue to play? Didn’t his parents or coaches see it? Wouldn’t they pull him off the court if they did? I know if I had a player from Team Ontario do that I would send them on the first bus home. This is not hockey, where there are grey areas when it comes to physical contact and banter. In tennis, this act is considered as it is on the street, as assault and battery. After speaking with the head referee and contacting those responsible for these decisions, the head referee eventually defaulted this player from the match and the tournament. The incident occurred towards the end of the 1st set, but the default only came in the 3rd set. I was pleased to see the correct decision made, albeit with great delay. I wonder if I just sat there, would have been any ramifications to the player’s actions?
A major issue throughout the tournament in both the boys and girls tournaments was the verbal abuse and taunting going on during changeovers, and sometimes between points. One player told another that she heard rumors about her and called her the B word. After another match, one player refused to shake the other’s hand, and instead offered the middle finger.
There was so much cheating in this tournament that it made my stomach turn. The problem is that some coaches and parents condone it, and the players who do it do not seem to feel guilty about it. Don’t they feel like they didn’t really earn the match? Don’t they feel embarrassed about what they are doing? Is it not our duty as adults to teach our kids and players to be honest people who compete with integrity?
The doubles were hard to watch at the 16’s nationals. Most of the teams appeared to be on foreign soil. Positioning, communication, movement, and basic tactics and doubles skills were very poor; it was clear we are not doing our job as coaches when it comes to producing good doubles players. On top of that, the necessary tournament structure in all provinces is significantly lacking competitive opportunities. Ask a player on tour (singles or doubles), or ask players competing in NCAA division 1 how important doubles is or was in their overall tennis development, as well as the opportunities it provides in college and on tour. They will universally laud the importance of competitive doubles play. The great news is some academies are putting greater emphasis on teaching doubles than previously, and in the coming year’s tournament calendar, adding more competitive doubles tournaments that count for ranking points in Ontario.
The Dark Horse
One of the great stories of the tournament was Tegbir Singh Hara. Unseeded and playing in his first Canadian Nationals, Tegbir managed to upset his way to the finals. Tegbir did not even initially make Team Ontario; he was awarded a spot because other players pulled out. This is unheard of. Certainly, Tegbir and his supportive family and coach Casey Curtis deserve recognition here.
The Boys Final
The Chilean flag was out at the u16 Boys Canadian Nationals. Yes, that’s right, not the Canadian flag, but the Chilean flag. Alejandro Tabilo who dominated the tournament enjoyed yet another Canadian Junior National title in front of a large group of his family members who displayed the Chilean flag on a table during the match. To me, Alejandro was the clear standout in the tournament, and he proved it by winning the event. Not dropping a set, Alejandro had a calm grin on his face throughout the week that kept telling me he was prepared to take the title.
The Ontario parents were great to work with at the u16’s this summer in Laval. I am a big believer in teamwork when it comes to maximizing a player’s performance at an event, and in junior tennis especially, we are trying to create a positive learning environment for the players. The parents who choose to travel with their children are integral in this process. The Ontario parents played their role very well. They allowed us to coach, asked questions, encouraged their kids, and I really felt they had our backs. I was very happy with the sportsmanship Ontario parents exhibited, along with their open communication, generosity, and helpfulness throughout the week. It really meant a lot to Irfan and me to be able to have such a great team environment.
Thoughts and Recommendations
The tournament was well run, but here are some recommendations to make the event better:
- Ensure roaming referees are clear on all the rules. There were several instances, i.e. the assault and battery incident, among others, that indicated they just don’t have the required knowledge to referee a national event.
- Because there were 8 courts divided into three separate areas, there should have been 3 roaming referees instead of two. This way the Head referee could have overseen it all while the roaming referees would have been better able to appropriately manage all the courts.
- We need to be stricter with what is tolerated on court. This is the referee’s job, but the coaches and parents play an important role here as well. Everybody has to remember that this is junior tennis. Instilling proper values and competitive spirit is important at these events.
- Tennis Canada could use the Nationals as an opportunity to greater educate, inspire, and collaborate with the provincial coaches.
- Get the best to compete. A large number of Canada’s best players did not compete for various reasons. It would be great if our Nationals were played by all of the best players in our country.
It has long been on my agenda to be a provincial coach and I am very thankful and appreciative for the opportunity to do so for Ontario. It was great to spend the week with Irfan, as he did a great job coaching and managing the players. “Irf” was a natural and very professional, offering strong support to the players. Thank you to Andre, Felix, Claude, Stephan, and everybody involved in organizing and operating the event. I always felt everybody was truly doing their best to help with the many requests I had.
Going forward, I hope to see great strides in Canadian players’ sportsmanship, doubles play, and an increased level of competition.
Now with this exciting national event resigned to the history books, the debrief complete, and our homework assigned, we look forward to the next Nationals in eight months’ time, where we build upon our lessons learned, and strive for even greater success.