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How can Nova Scotia Juniors begin competing on a National Level?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Why are parents happy to put their kid in Hockey 5 times a week, but unlikely to do the same for Tennis? Maybe it’s because parents can see a clear pathway to professional success with Hockey. Parents contend that ‘Sidney Crosby, Brad Marchand and Nathan MacKinnon were brought up in this community, and that future for my child seems attainable’. Tennis seems to be more of an unknown entity.

Hockey will probably always be the most popular sport in this province. It is firmly ingrained in the Canadian psyche. Perhaps sometime in the distant future Soccer will flirt with the top spot, but it certainly will never be Tennis. In our schools there is also a perceived hierarchy. Math and Science are at the top, while the Arts languish at the bottom. Few parents would consider Dance to be as important a subject as Physics. Much like few parents would consider Tennis to be as important as Hockey. If we are to begin consistently producing nationally competitive tennis players in Nova Scotia, we need to do it in spite of the current culture.

We recently had Severine Tamborero visit DNTC as part of her tour of Eastern Canada. She is the Director of High Performance Clubs and Under 10 Development based at the National Training Centre in Montreal. She gave us the following feedback on our high performance program and how we could improve:

-Parents cannot be afraid to choose tennis as their kids’ dominant sport. We spend a lot of time accommodating players’ other sport schedules when it comes to Elite sessions. Unfortunately, this method of prioritization will never produce quality tennis players. Commitment is key.

-Tennis must be fun. At DNTC we are not interested in spending eternity fine-tuning technique. We focus on building confidence through repetition, and reducing the fear of losing. Players should play to win, too many juniors play not to lose.

-The Tennis Canada Long Term Athlete Development model states that 13-15 year old players should spend 12-14 hours training each week. One or two sessions each week is simply not enough to be competitive on a national stage.

-Players need to set clear goals in order to put in the tremendous time and effort required to master tennis. Gaining an NCAA scholarship is both attainable and realistic, and the future possibilities after graduation are limitless.

In the Fall there will be serious changes to the structure of our High Performance programming. Players will be selected based on attitude. Players will be expected to commit to at least 4 days of training per week. We are devoted to giving players who are serious about a future in Tennis an opportunity to meet their promise.

How to Improve Tennis

Monday, September 01, 2014

Tennis has always been viewed as a sport for the elite; a country club whimsy sporadically weighed down by stuffy tradition. We have seen with the rise of Raonic and Bouchard how having an idol to follow really engages an entire nation. This is undoubtedly a priceless way to get children into a sport they hadn’t previously considered. What else can be done at the professional level to make tennis a truly engaging and accessible sport on a global scale?

#1 No Umpires or Linespeople

Remember when people used to sit precariously on the side of the court with a hand poised on the net to judge lets? Every so often an errant shot would hit them in the face providing devilish delight to those of us with a warped sense of humour. That job no longer exists because technology has made it obsolete. Many umpires and linespeople would argue with this but their job is now obsolete too. With the introduction of Hawkeye a player can challenge a mistake (or correct call) made by an official. Let’s remove the middleman. Players call their own lines and if they disagree with their opponent’s ruling, they challenge it. Think of the drama this would create. Imagine Djokovic cussing out Nadal and calling him a cheat across the net after a suspect line call. People might even change the channel from CSI to see that.

#2 No Lets

Lets are a waste of time. They are unnecessary and slow the pace of the match considerably. We don’t stop playing during a point if the ball clips the tape so why do we do it off a serve?

#3 Allow On-court Coaching

Ask Andre Agassi. Or John McEnroe. Tennis is a lonely sport. Perhaps the loneliest. You experience breathtaking highs and debilitating lows in the same match - alone. Why not allow a coach access to their player during change of ends? Put a microphone on court and have viewers at home listen in to what the coaches’ advice entails. What a unique insight we’d have into coaching philosophy and the mind of a champion, as well as possible changes in tactics before they’ve manifested on court.

#4 Shot Clock

The NFL and NBA use it to maintain fairness and speed in between the action. Why shouldn’t tennis use it to police serial offenders of delaying? – cough Nadal cough. If the player hasn’t already begun their service motion when 20 seconds runs out, they forfeit the point. Tough, but fair. Picture the suspense as a player is toweling off and the countdown begins.

#5 The Crowd doesn’t have to be quiet

FIVE. The crowd counts along with the shot clock. FOUR. THREE. The player hustles to the line. TWO. He gives a quick nod to the tennis Gods before – ONE – beginning his routine. It’s too late. A loud buzz rings out. The masses erupt. Another point lost to father time.

What a spectacle this would be. Consider all the sports that have active audience participation: Football, Basketball, Soccer, Hockey, Baseball, and many more. Why is it that these players can play at a high level with crowd noise, but tennis players complain to the umpire whenever someone clears their throat? Let’s stop pretending that players need zen-like serenity to perform.

#6 No more best of 5 sets

I’m a tennis fan and I work at a tennis centre, but I get bored watching 5 set battles, even between great players. Best of three sets is plenty of tennis, and then afterwards you still have time to enjoy your day.

#7 No-Ad Scoring in Singles

Despite players like Raonic, Dimitrov and Nishikori making waves in tennis circles, the big 4 still completely dominates. They have won 36 of the last 38 Grand Slam titles. Aside from inclement weather, the other great equalizer in tennis is playing No-Ad scoring. After deuce, next point wins, and the returner can choose which side to receive from. This would result in more service breaks, and more upsets.

Even if just a couple of these changes are enacted in Professional Tennis, casual tennis watchers would increase and more youngsters would be encouraged to take up the sport. Heroes of the tennis world would become heroes of the sporting world.


Growing the Game

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

I’ve been an avid tennis player for as long as I can remember. As a kid I used to escape my older brothers’ torments by wandering down to the local gym – my Wilson Advantage wooden racket in hand – to whack a ball against the wall. Now I get to manage the only indoor clay court tennis facility east of Montreal with the primary objective to grow the game of tennis in Nova Scotia at a grass roots level.

Our first school visit was to Harbour View Elementary in Dartmouth. We were immediately drawn to these students because of their strong personal character and the immense support evident from their Physical Education teacher. It was a great mix of kids from all corners of the world. One student in particular, who had only been in Canada for a few days, was understandably shy at first. In no time we watched his shyness give way to play.

As the pros were teaching the fundamentals of the game, I walked around and chatted with the kids and teachers to find out more about their school, their interests and their lives. I soon learned that many of the kids in this neighborhood did not have access to organized sport due to family financial difficulties or support. Many face unbelievable situations on a personal level, yet showed tremendous appreciation for our visit and for the game of tennis. We were hooked.

Since our first visit we have returned to the school a second time and are now organizing programming for them at the Daniel Nestor Tennis Centre and planning for summer camp opportunities. Programs like this are partially funded through an event we run yearly that includes a visit from Daniel Nestor himself. ‘RAISE A RACQUET FOR KIDS’ was established to raise funds to for visiting schools and then offer scholarship opportunities to those kids that were interested.

In the past month we have visited over a half-dozen schools and are scheduled to visit two-a-week right up until the summer break. We are running a FREE day at the Centre at the end of the school year for all the schools so kids can enjoy playing on clay courts, win some prizes and share a few laughs.

We are committed to building confidence, leadership and team camaraderie in the youth of our community. We believe that through tennis we can change lives and help kids achieve goals in education that they would otherwise not have had the opportunity to explore.

Whilst visiting schools is our primary objective, I welcome any ideas you might have as we try to build the game of tennis in Nova Scotia. If you are a local school in the HRM and would like a visit, let us know and we can arrange a time.

This is it: The Apocalypse

Friday, April 18, 2014

For the first week or so, the snow is a novelty – a serene reminder of winter’s deft touch – and then reality sets in. You cannot really be outside for long unless you are bundled from head to toe. Schools are cancelled, malls shut their doors, and a previously simple task like driving to the supermarket or walking the dog becomes a wretched ordeal. Locals lament the timing of our arrival and politely ask what we were thinking.

Krista – my Canadian partner of three years – and I relocated from Auckland, New Zealand, to Halifax just in time for my first-ever White Christmas in December 2013. It was a decision made easier by the exorbitant Auckland housing market and New Zealand’s high cost of living. Despite many friends and colleagues questioning our sanity, we both resigned permanent full-time positions as English teachers and trudged across the world right at the commencement of the Canadian winter – and the New Zealand summer.

As more and more people commented on my unique accent, I realized what a rare commodity I was. Moving to a city with a ridiculously high percentage of White people I did not look different, but when I spoke I became a foreigner. Even people who did not comment gave me a strange, steady look after hearing me rush my vowels and fail to roll my R’s.

Coming to Canada is much different than a Canadian visiting New Zealand. We are used to your accents and mannerisms as a large majority of pop culture and celebrities – for better or worse – come from North America. If you haven’t personally visited New Zealand, odds are you are not familiar with our accents either. Just do not commit the cardinal sin of mistaking us as Australian. You never call a Kiwi an Aussie. It’s like asking a Canadian where in America they are from.

I immersed myself in anything and everything Canadian; by that I mean anything we could not get in New Zealand. Krista insisted I warm up with a French-Vanilla Cappuccino from Tim Hortons. We got nine-inch subs from Quiznos with a strange drink I can only describe as a mixture of vanilla coke and medicine – root beer. We sampled ‘authentic’ Mexican at Taco Bell and regretted it about thirty minutes later. The Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market featured a lone woman dancing spiritedly beneath an unassuming crowd more interested in trialing the Chicken Samosas and Berry Smoothies. We sipped ice-cold Labatt Blue and Rickard’s Red watching the accumulated snow periodically tumble from the trees where the dogs chased squirrels. After ice-skating at Emera Oval we considered buying some New Zealand wine at the liquor store but it was too expensive. I became frustrated when tax was added to the price of the sweatpants I bought at Roots. Why isn’t tax included in the listed price?

After two weeks enjoying our holiday from teaching and browsing the sights of Atlantic Canada, I thought we had adjusted well. We had spent a tactical night in Vancouver as a pre-emptive strike to eliminate any potential jet lag. Halifax was cold, sure, colder than anything I’d ever experienced even, but it wasn’t that cold I assured friends and family back home.

And then, the polar vortex arrived. I was suddenly eternally grateful for central heating, something 99% of households in New Zealand don’t have. I was not mentally prepared for the temperatures outside to rival an apocalyptic wasteland from a Cormac McCarthy novel. This was a new level of bitterness I hadn’t previously imagined possible – a dense, suffocating blanket of Arctic hell-on-earth. The snow was no longer a novelty; the honeymoon was over.

Despite the stark contrast from my previous sub-tropical climate, I have loved every moment of our first months here. Driving to PEI for New Year’s Eve, the majestic beauty of tall snow-laced trees dotting the highway completely enveloped us, bringing with it a calm sense of ease. Being overwhelmed by nature and all its grandeur, we pondered why so many young people were intent on moving out west.

Thankfully, the stereotype of super-polite Canadians has proven to be entirely accurate. Even in the depths of winter, optimism reigns. There is a palpable sense of community, an innate willingness to help people out in times of need. Yes, the weather is debilitating now, but spring and summer are just around the corner locals assure me – almost apologetically.