Written by: Pierre 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.***
Solutions: Part 2 – Pulling Together
Teamwork is “work done by several associates with each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole”.
Let’s clear the table of agendas, present policies, problems with changing them and complaints and look at how a system could be developed that would make us all pull together and really do what we all say we want: “make tennis development better in this country”.
Who are the major players in tennis development in this country?
Without a doubt Tennis Canada is the major player. They have the money, they have the power, they have the ability to effect change. Actually they are basically the only one that can effect the changes to bring us all together. If it is so, why do they not do it? Simple, somewhere along the road the leaders of development strategy made wrong assumptions and found themselves down a road they will find very difficult to alter as it would be an acceptance that they had made a mistake originally. So, as a result, the leadership becomes more defensive, invests more to justify their direction and highlights certain performances to promote the credibility of the system.
The assumption which was made was first and foremost that the private sector, the year round clubs, their academies and their coaches were simply not good enough to develop players of international profile. So, in good faith, Tennis Canada created a system which put them in competition with the clubs and academies that develop their players. An industry that was already struggling [see the number of club closures] and which is essential to player development in Canada [where else will the players come from or where will they compete year round?] is now further jeopardized by national policies.
If you agree that these for-profit facilities and their academies are essential to the Tennis Canada performance objectives, should Tennis Canada not find a way to harness the financial and human resources of this sector? Really, first and foremost, the reality of the sport in this country warrants the synergy that can be created by bringing all components of tennis development to the table. If we do not understand this then we are bound to fail as Tennis Canada and provincial associations do not have enough money or human resources to build the multitude of clubs required to operate a proper infrastructure.
What do the private for-profit clubs want? Simply to be able to survive financially, to keep on taking care of their staff and families, to help grow the sport and to be part of the Canadian team. How hard can that be? The first thing you have to do is give them a voice so that their concerns can be addressed in a rational businesslike manner rather than in an emotional, defensive, personal approach. I personally lived this experience in the last week as a group of indoor club owners and operators of academies met to secure representation at the provincial level in Ontario. A process which was developed to produce a voice for the private sector in the volunteer led and volunteer populated Ontario provincial associations quickly turned in a stalling personal defense by the provincial association. This exemplified the lack of overall understanding of what is required to achieve teamwork and success.
If private clubs had a voice, they would cooperate by recruiting more members to the association. They would ask for help hosting tournaments and provide input regarding provincial and national programs. This could achieve the same objectives without creating negative feelings within the private club and its staff.
Let me give you a simple example. Tennis Canada presently operates what they call a complementary program for players under the age of 14. Besides having access in some cases to national coaches three times or more per week, they operate regroupings on a recurring basis for younger players through provincial programs subsidised by Tennis Canada. You must understand that the national coaches who operate these services are mostly coaches that come from the private academy sector. So really the coaches are not any better. Second, the argument that these programs provide better training partners is correct only for those selected players that are not in a good program. Any 14-year-old player at our academy that is of international potential has at least eight to 12 better players to practice with. Let’s find a solution to the players that do not have that opportunity, but not at the cost of creating ill will with the existing successful programs.
I believe regroupings are essential and I endorse them completely. They should only be done differently in a way which is more cost efficient, which ensures that all deserving players are taken care of and to create a positive interaction between the private academies, their coaches and the national coaches. I’ll give you a further example of what I am talking about.
Last week, while at the Rexall National Center, to foolishly try to get a voice for the private for profit clubs, I stopped by the indoor courts. One of these complementary programs was going on. Two of the four courts were occupied. On one court two national coaches, one that worked at ACE, were running a training session for two U14 girls. On the other court two more national coaches, one that worked for ACE were training one U12 player. The training was supervised by the head national coach from Montreal. Five coaches, three players, two courts, is there not a more cost efficient way to do this?
How about doing it this way? [This applies for Ontario but the same concept can be used in all provinces by changing the components of the program but keeping the same principles in mind. In fact the national coaches based in Montreal and Toronto should manage some of the other provinces].
- Change the system and make the regroupings different. Instead of weekly gatherings offer the regroupings three times a year for four to seven day periods. Select the players you want, bring their coaches in at the Center or in Florida, have your national coach and fitness coach run the regrouping, work with the private coaches provide them guidance and assistance and let’s see how we can grow together.
- The regroupings should occur at the beginning of the year to establish the year plan, then have one in Florida before the Eddie Herr and one in the spring. The national coach runs everything and is responsible for proper assistance in the management of the player by the private coach.
- The players that are at the proper level that have a great environment do not have to leave their club. They receive financial assistance for more private lessons, fitness training or hitting partners. They benefit from seeing the national coach three times a year at the regroupings plus the national coach visits the academy every month to ensure the proper progress of the player, as well as the adherence to the agreed plan by the academy or private coach. At the same time the national coach can evaluate other players in the program, provide feedback to the academy and create a great atmosphere of cooperation.
- The players that live in London and Ottawa are helped in developing programs which require less travel for them and which meet their needs. If it is not possible, the national coach can recommend a program where the players needs can be met. Tennis Canada can subsidise their training. Another option is the national coach visits more often or has the kid come and spend a few weekends with him in Toronto.
- The national coach can go to tournaments and see how the kids are doing, can provide feedback to the coaches, answer the parents questions and create a great team environment. He can work privately with the players that do not have adequate access to coaching and can also help other provinces with their U14 system.
Think about this. We need one coach to operate the U14 Ontario system. Right now we have Bob Brett and at least four national coaches in Toronto. Have the results of the last five years of the program in Toronto justified this sizeable investment in coaches which could be directed to more players? In case you are unsure the answer is no.
If the national association decides to respect their partners in the private sector, the provincial associations will fall in line and every one will be happy and work together. The happenings of the last week in trying to get representation for the for-profit year round clubs at the provincial or regional level has convinced me that working within the system [which is what everyone from the provincial or national level recommends] will not happen until Tennis Canada decides to make it happen. To make it happen you must have a voice, not just be dictated to.
It’s possible, all together is the only way. Please consider it. Plan it, cost it and you will see, we will all be winners especially the kids.