Written by: Pierre ‘The Bear’ Lamarche
***Pierre Lamarche has been an outspoken proponent of Canadian tennis and how the sport should have a major place in the Canadian sport landscape. He believes this lofty ambition can only be achieved through the combination of success on the international professional competitive scene, with the required domestic infrastructure and a true partnership between Tennis Canada and the tennis private sector.
His comments are often taken as critical by those who feel targeted by his questions. His background as a player, coach, and leader [see background] in the sport and coaching industry warrants that his views, which are shared by many others, be given due process by anyone [or organization] who really wants to help Canadian Tennis achieve the proper national status it deserves in the sport community.***
The Ontario Tennis Association has announced a new major fall circuit for the U18 and under U16 age categories. The tournaments will be offered under the title of Team Ontario Circuit and will provide the winners of each circuit a direct entry to the Canadian Junior Indoor Nationals in the winter competitive season.
Tennis Canada has been conducting various meetings across the country to rectify the fallout from a ranking system which basically motivated some individuals not to compete so as to protect their ranking. This fixation with ranking can somewhat be understood when they are used for team selection process to nationals, or the ego of parents, or the misplaced idea in players that they are objective, but the reality is that rankings can be manipulated [by protecting your ranking] or bought [ITF rankings]. I say bought because for example in Canada a real good ITF ranking can be attained through joining the Tennis Canada group which will then send you to tournaments at their cost and which makes it possible for them to justify the relative accomplishment of their programs, or by having parents willing to spend huge sums to have their kids travel the world in the pursuit of points which are often meaningless.
The Town Hall meetings that Tennis Canada held across the country highlighted some specific areas which needed to be addressed in the Canadian competitive area in junior tennis. Ontario was identified as the only province which was offering the required number of competitive opportunities for their players to achieve the recommended number of tournament matches that should be played in singles. The accompanying ranking system was responsible for having few players able to achieve the suggested number of singles matches. No province offered any significant doubles opportunity. For example, a 14 year old female should play 30 doubles matches as recommended in Tennis Canada’s Long Term Athlete Development plan.
Kartik Vyas, in charge of the Ontario player development area, introduced the concept of a fall circuit which helped provide the required competitive opportunities to players in singles and doubles. The winner of the U18 and U16 boys and girls circuits will get a direct entry into the Canadian Junior Nationals. This circuit prize trumps the erroneous ranking system and will make players in Ontario compete more, which is compatible with proper long term player development principles. Even more beneficial is the introduction of a doubles component to the circuit. Each tournament will have a doubles component attached to it which will make it possible for any team competing to play four or five pro set matches in one afternoon. Even better, the doubles will have a component, which will affect the players overall circuit ranking: “you don’t play you can’t win.”
Critics will say: “I need time for my player to make changes in his game,” the Bear says,“No better time to see if they can make these than in tournaments. It’s how you present these competitive opportunities.” Our players simply do not have enough matches and/or develop skills associated with doubles play. That is the priority of this circuit. The priority of the winter season is to win the Nationals, the priority of the fall circuit is to see if we can implement changes in competition while playing more and more matches and developing the competitive [mental] skills required to win in the winter.
Congratulations to Kartik and his group that have taken a real step in helping the development of our players in Ontario: the creation of a third competitive cycle in our annual training plans. With the inclusion of doubles, I forecast our players playing 30 to 50 more matches this year, how fantastic. The personal coach of the player also needs to manage this competitive cycle by addressing the need for rest due to injury and the reduction of the training load [i.e. Monday off is an option].
The positives of this initiative far outweigh any real or perceived problems that can be associated with this circuit. Let’s play, the best way to improve self confidence is by winning matches not by looking at your protected ranking on the computer. Now with more tournaments and a doubles option, the next step is introducing a significant amount of tournaments on clay courts.