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.***
Seminar 1 – “Helping your student to become a competitive player”
I was mandated to prepare two coaching seminars of two days for around 60 coaches on each occasion. The first one dealt with the requirements necessary for introducing players to competitive tennis, while the second one dealt more specifically with how to ensure the transition of players from top international juniors to the pro ranks.
In presenting to coaches of a foreign nation you want to create a feeling of awakening which allows them see what they do well while looking at suggestions which can make their system better. One of the important discoveries from my research for the presentation was that performance in Taiwan and Canada at the junior and professional levels was very similar [see Table 1 previous article]. For those of you that understand English Premier League soccer, Taiwan and Canada always find themselves in relegation or promotion situations. We are not good enough to be in the best group, but we are better than the rest of the teams that are not permanent residents of the top echelon.
What Canada and Taiwan have in common is a certain level of top performance in junior competitive tennis. Taiwan has had one #1 boys ITF junior as well as a #7 in the last few years. This year of course was a banner year for Canada with Peliwo’s and the girls’ performances. What I found very similar in both countries was a somewhat distorted emphasis on junior performance versus the longer term approach required for professional performance. In Asia the ITF competitions are much weaker than similar tournaments, let us say, in Europe. It is easier to get your point and rankings there. Few foreigners venture into this area of competition as travel is quite expensive. Fewer foreigners means more points for Asian players. More points for Asian players, makes it easier to justify performance to government authorities that provide funding. In Canada, the major investment made by Tennis Canada in their present system warrants performances. For example a player like Peliwo who finished #1 in the ITF rankings this year, played 50 ITF junior events in his career versus the low 35 for Milos Raonic [ATP 13 and ITF 35] and the lower 27 for Jerzy Janowicz of Poland [ATP 26 and ITF 5] the only 1990 players in the top 100.
This seems to indicate that although there are correlations that have been established such as 60% of top 10 ITF players reach top 100 ATP rankings [although much more prevalent in the girls], what must also be considered is the number of ITF tournaments played by the players to achieve [or buy] their ranking. This is not a foreign concept as many average national level players can achieve high international rankings as long as they have parents or associations willing to foot the bill. But in no way does it guarantee future performance in the pros.
What I was able to point out to the coaches and the national association in Taiwan was that their present approach to player development did not really respect the scientific recommendations for athlete development. Early specialization leads to early successes but unfortunately quite often reduces the overall potential of a player. In Taiwan players in Grade 3 are offered the opportunity to play tennis all day long, all year long. Faced with the choice of attending class or playing tennis, you can easily guess the choice of the children. The players I saw in Taiwan [over 350 of them] could hit crosscourts all day long [Asian Tennis] without missing. By specializing so much they have had great international junior successes which do not translate into professional performances.
I asked Tennis Canada coaching director Ari Novick for the right to use Tennis Canada’s long term athlete development findings. From there I established what science said was required for proper athlete and tennis development in different stages [see presentation 1]. I specifically used the 8-15 year old range of scientific recommendations to compare with their present Taiwan system. What was evident was that the principles of growth and development as relating to training programs being 1. Progressive, 2. Scientific, 3. Integrated, were not respected. Their success was due basically to two very distinct traits of the Taiwanese system, unbelievable commitment by their athletes [school or tennis option] and volume of play. The Taiwanese are able to accelerate the development of their players at a young age, but unfortunately when the meaningful years of growth [15-20] arrive, they have already maxed out their potential and find themselves unable to build on a physical base that was not developed properly. As well the emphasis on performance curtails the development of long term aspects of the game, variation, slice, net play, decision making by having a narrow focus and intellectual approach. This is equal to mortgaging the future development of a player, not a good formula.
You must understand that the Taiwanese coaches understood and accepted these findings and actually felt good that possibly this was an answer to their collective concern of developing top world class juniors who could not transcend the next level. The second part of the seminar [see part 2] was spent on showing them how to integrate this scientific knowledge in a practical day to day training environment. I used the present ACE Tennis approach to programming to show how we developed programs that were progressive, scientific and integrated.
I also provided insight on a new player management service which would make it possible for their coaches to communicate and share new information relevant to their approach to improve player development policies, as they do not have a coaches association or way to communicate and exchange ideas.
The next article [part 3] on Taiwan will deal with my four visits to different schools which provided me the opportunity to interact with over 350 students and thirty of their coaches. Finally the last article [part 4] will deal with the seminar with their top national coaches on the subject developing top juniors into successful professional players.