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.***
One of the great benefits associated with competitive tennis is the travel. Yes it is tiresome when you do it all the time, but as a coach it’s a little different because unless your player is on the pro tour or ITF circuit, it is a sporadic change to your daily home routine.
This time my assignment was to introduce two of our young ACE players Raheel Manji (16 years old and Under 16 National Champ) and Sam Philp (17 years old and #3 at recent U18 Ontario Championships) to the experience of the entry level Pro Circuit at the Saskatoon Futures.
I looked forward to the change, as the last two months since I came back from my surfing adventure in the Dominican have been nothing short of crazy. Year end for the kids, new clubs, new academies, new staff, new circuits, summer and fall planning, plus personal logistics. When I took my seat in the plane, I was able to enjoy two activities which had eluded me in the last two months: reading the paper and a mid day nap, not to mention no phone, text or e-mail.
I was looking forward to this experience because Raheel and Sam are two great role models in the way they go about their development; as well as two great kids. Do not get me wrong they “ain’t” perfect, Sam “the contrary man” is stubborn while Raheel is so intense and thinking about his game all the time that I knew the experience would be beneficial to all of us. My objectives were quite simple: 1. Providing insight on how to integrate the entry level tour, where men and not kids are playing 2 . To see if I could develop a relationship with Sam so that he becomes more open to coaching suggestions and develops a more open way of communicating 3. To show Raheel how to channel his intensity in a way which makes it possible for him to manage his excitement in stressful match situations.
So fast forward, on my way back to Toronto here is the “compte rendu”. From a performance standpoint the results were predictable: Sam won his first qualifying match against a local player and lost a second round match against a good Canadian player who was injured and which he could have beaten. He lost the second set 7-5 making over 25 unforced errors, including three on critical points at the end of the second set with poor decisions (going for too much). As a result he lost a match where his opponent only made two winners in the set, but his 25 unforced errors far outdid his own five winners. This is the difference between playing junior events, including ITF’s with the boys versus entry level pro events with the men.
Raheel received a wild card from Tennis Canada based on his performance in the U16 Nationals this past winter. Last week he won two matches and qualified in Kelowna before losing in the first round. In that match he was up 5-2 in the second against another junior wild card, Alexander Day. After losing the first, the excitement of getting his first ATP point at the age of 16 got him carried away. This time he played a man and his best intentions and preparation gave way to his lack of experience in managing an opponent who simply imposed his will and game style on him.
From a performance standpoint our team gets a 2 out of 10, but from an objective viewpoint (see above) we probably managed a 6 to 7 out of ten. The conclusions I came away with were 1. If you want to learn the game get out of juniors at 16 and play the men, no one gives you anything 2. My boys would benefit from playing 12-16 of these events when they are around 16. 3. In Canada we must find a strategy that allows these boys the opportunity to play these events at an affordable cost, the cost to ACE for my five days of coaching was over $1750 without a salary, by grouping them together (3 or 4) within driving distance 4. If we can understand the maximization of resources principle, we will make better decisions for the players and we will produce more entry level players (Junior, transition and College players) who will help us have a greater presence on the world scene while developing the domestic infrastructure.
Meanwhile, I loved my experience being with the boys and seeing so many Canadians giving it a shot. It was also interesting to visit a club where I played a pro event in 1974. The mosquitoes still rule in Saskatoon.