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.***
Flaws: Part 2
WARNING: This editorial contains views, which are definitely probing. Please be advised that you might not like the content, and it could lead you to question the transparency of national initiatives.
dissension [dɪ’sɛnʃən] n
disagreement, especially when leading to a quarrel
Dissension is not a situation which is usually conducive to achieving success in any venture. So if the present Tennis Canada system does foster dissension we all must agree that a better solution should be found. How does the present system create dissension with clubs, Academies and Provincial associations?
First we have to clarify that the clubs we are talking about are private year round facilities, the bad guys of the tennis industry that invest money into developing businesses which offer year round programs for their tennis members. As well, if the club owner is a little masochistic, he will assist the provincial and national associations in running activities, which help promote the development of the sport. Why do I say masochistic? Have you noticed the rush to build new tennis facilities across the country? In a country, which is surviving a world recession better than most places, we must have a lot of smart business people in this society of ours. So why are they not investing in building new tennis facilities?
Well, because it’s not a great investment. Our company, All-Canadian Sports Management Inc. has been involved in no less than ten year round facilities as a salvage management company, which is brought in to turn around the falling fortunes of the business of these year round clubs. Of these ten clubs, two have survived: Ontario Racquet Club in Mississauga and Cedar Springs Health, Racquet and Sportsclub in Burlington. Eight of them: clubs in Montreal, Quebec City, Dartmouth, Sudbury, London, Ottawa, Ancaster and Brantford are now homes to non-tennis related businesses. So the remaining private year round facilities are the lifeline of Canadian Tennis: without them you can’t have indoor tournaments, and you can’t have year round junior programs and academies. Wait a second; a whole industry is down the tubes: there are no more pros because there are no more year round jobs unless you are lucky enough to be a national coach, or a coach in one of those ritzy private member clubs. How about the racquet and ball companies? Sales go down, they make less money and now Tennis Canada and the provincial associations get less money when negotiating official ball status with these manufacturers.
Should someone be concerned about these year round clubs which are the lifeline of player development in this country? If they were not around, only someone who can afford a hefty initiation fee, as well as yearly membership fees or a tennis fanatic lucky enough to have a community club would play tennis year round. At last look, I see very few of these exclusive or community clubs operating numerous tournaments, giving up their member courts for events and making it possible to operate full-fledged tennis academies. So no indoor clubs, then no tournaments, no academies, no player development, no jobs, you get the picture? Ask your provincial association if they are having a surplus of requests to host tournaments. Ask Tennis Quebec, ask Tennis Ontario, ask Tennis BC why they have so few tournaments? If they are having difficulty finding sites to host events, and since they are, you can imagine what the rest of the country is going through.
Now, how about if the national development policies affect the wellbeing of the indoor industry? Well, the present national policies do affect the indoor clubs as pointed out in a letter to the chair of Tennis Canada by the then president of the Ontario Tennis Association. Who represents the interest of these indoor clubs? Unfortunately, no one really does. How can you expect the volunteer president of a provincial association to have the understanding of such complex issues? By the time he gets his head around the issues, the facts, the reality, he is out of office and replaced by a new well-meaning volunteer. National and provincial association employees or coaches do not see anything wrong because they think their jobs are secure, so why waste time helping those money grabbing year round facilities? Wrong, most of them eventually would be out of jobs if there were no year round clubs except for your exclusive member clubs and your subsidized community clubs.
Why would you have people working in events and ranking administration management when there would be no tournaments? Where would you get your players? Okay, so you could recruit them from other countries, but would anyone do that? In fact it’s a good idea we could have national coaches that go to other countries, see if there are any players who qualify as Canadian and bring them to the center in Montreal. Meanwhile more year round clubs meet a sinister ending, development opportunities go by the wayside, employment opportunities are not created, and they also disappear.
Can you imagine the conflict these policies create? You have an industry that is struggling to exist finding themselves in competition with the public sector and without any representation. This seems very un-Canadian and undemocratic to me. You use public funds to compete with the private sector which is not only struggling, but which is essential to the long term development of the sport. Are we all so short sighted that we can’t understand where this is going to lead? If the provincial and national associations do not recognise the essential role and voice of the year round facilities, then they should have a plan to build community clubs across the country [better usage of funds than the millions spent in Montreal on four indoor clay courts]. Does this remind you of the Goose that laid the Golden Eggs story?
PLEASE NOTE THIS IS FOR THOSE THAT THINK I AM MAKING THIS UP:
The club in London I referred to above was the London All-Canadian Club, home to Simon Bartram, present national coach, Ari Novick, present coaching director at Tennis Canada, Hatem Mcdadi, vice president at Tennis Canada, Ralph Platz, national coach in Montreal, Doug Burke, ACE Tennis president, Lorne Main, Tennis Canada and Rogers Hall of Fame, Gaetan Parent, Queens Club Tennis Director, Paul Beck, York Racquet Club tennis director, Michael Emmett, Mayfair Club Tennis Director, Tony Roth, Ottawa Athletic Club tennis director, Hubert Karrasch, tennis director in Hong Kong, Jerome Fournier, tennis director in Vancouver, Bill Kovack, tennis director in London, Wendy Pattenden, former Fed Cup Captain and president of National Sport Centre B.C., six Fed Cup and Davis Cup players and the winners of over 50 national championships. Three present Tennis Canada Hall of Fame members, Ken Sinclair, Harry Fauquier and I, put it together.
Through my redesign of clubs in difficulties I discovered the following fact: if I operated an academy and was willing to work longer hours both at the club and academy, we could create extra revenue in non-prime time which helped in the overall wellbeing of the club. Hence, the All-Canadian Academy hired half-dozen coaches, bought some houses and became home to over 40 Canadian youngsters. The club survived due to the incremental revenue of court time, which was discounted, and the club membership rose because of families and better services to the members [better coaches].
Tennis Canada responded to this private sector initiative and decided to introduce, with Molson money, four regional centers across Canada. This basically doomed the All-Canadian operation as their players were recruited to fill the regional centers. These regional programs were subsidised and parents chose not to send their kids back to All-Canadian under the false assumption that it would not affect the development of their kids. The owners of All-Canadian eventually realised that they could not compete with Tennis Canada and the club was sold. The Tennis Canada initiative was a failure and the regional centers were closed down. This is what you call a lose-lose relationship at all levels.
It is easy to understand how these policies affect the Academies. These academies, which are recognised by Tennis Canada as Tennis Development Centers, invest money and resources in a concept, which is essential to the financial wellbeing of the club where they operate. Suddenly, they see their assets [players] that they have developed abruptly taken away from them. It is not the financial loss that is important by the poaching of the player by Tennis Canada; it is the ripple effect of negativity that is created. The message you send to the kids and their families are as follows: “Out of all your players in your academy we think that only this kid is good enough to succeed. The program and coaches you have at your academy are not good enough, that is why he should come and train with our coach at the national center three times a week”.
So players are deflated, they lose one of the top players in the group, which of course affects all the players in the group. Players of the same ability in the program resent Tennis Canada. Parents of the chosen player are ecstatic since they believe their kid is the one. But really it is not what is best according to principles of long term development [i.e. one main coach, see Bloom], the academy coach is frustrated because he was already having problems managing the development of the child and now the parents have been empowered by Tennis Canada and they become experts. Peers of the selected players look for different alternatives to keep up. Their parents spend all types of money to keep up with the selected players, monies that could be better utilized for the development of their future. The coach at Tennis Canada cannot even get what he wants from the kid because he cannot afford to lose him. It is an ongoing spiral of negativity that is created by the Tennis Canada policies.
How can it create dissension with provincial associations? Let’s say I am someone who is a masochist and who wants to invest two million dollars in creating a great tennis training facility in Toronto because I want to help the sport and the kids. Of course opponents will see it as a threat since it could affect their status quo. They marginalized the initiative and even tried to discredit it by implying that it is being done for self-serving purposes. But the reality is if the investment would be done as a straight member club it would generate greater revenues, at lower costs for the investors. So why would someone want to invest money to grow the sport? Maybe because they love the sport and feel it’s a great contribution to the fabric of the society it serves. This masochist investor suddenly reads this article and is appalled by what happened to the venture in London with All-Canadian. He is worried that the investment could be jeopardized so he asks the provincial association to have a voice or be represented in development policies, which could affect his business, as well as the services he hopes to provide year round to the provincial association. The provincial association has bylaws that make it difficult to give a voice to these development related clubs although another province, Quebec, does.
More disturbing is that provincial staff and volunteers do not bring up these serious concerns in a formal manner with Tennis Canada. They are discussed but nothing is done. So as a result policies from Tennis Canada that affect the long term wellbeing of player development are not addressed and the investor is left defenceless. In case you do not understand, the provinces can affect policy changes at Tennis Canada, but a system was designed (The Council of the Provinces), which made it possible for provinces to voice their displeasure with various policies. But the process was designed in such a way that the provinces that have all their own agendas cannot really affect any change. Tennis Canada provides administrative assistance to the Council of the Provinces, pays for the volunteer presidents to get together twice a year, lets them vent with full time knowledgeable employees of Tennis Canada, who can smooth over any concern. After the Provinces are told of their increased subsidies and how well the system is doing, play a little tennis, have a meal, the provincial presidents go back home to their local problems and life goes on. Please do not forget that I was on the inside when Tennis Canada staff designed this brilliant concept.
How can you expect these provincial associations to fight for the rights of the private sector or the Academies that are the lifeline of player development? They are looking to get their $40,000 to $100,000 yearly subsidy, I don’t blame them. The infrastructure of tennis development in this country is so poor that only handouts and subsidies are what make tennis viable at any level for have not provinces. By the way this very Machiavellian approach is not new to tennis. The ITF uses it in all of Africa, that is why there is so many African tennis players on the tour and the game is growing so well there after 30 years of subsidies. Nepotism is a great way to keep people in line.
Next week: How to get the year round clubs, the academies and the provincial associations to pull together with Tennis Canada for a win-win situation.