This is part three of a five-part series about tennis in your community, where we will recognize the contributions of several individuals who are funneling their passion for tennis into growing the sport in their own communities across the country.
A nurse for 25 years in the neo-natal intensive care unit, Danielle Smith saw a lot of children born to generations of low-income families.
“I looked at that over the years and I thought really in order to get out of the cycle of poverty, education is the most important thing,” Smith said. “And a lot of the kids were lacking self-confidence and self-esteem and they weren’t involved in activities.”
For Smith, who is the Building Tennis Communities (BTC) champion for the Ottawa area, tennis was a perfect solution. She already loved the sport and had seen the positive affect it had on her three children, all of whom played the sport growing up. So she started A Love of Tennis, an organization aimed at using tennis as a vehicle to promote healthy values and lifestyles, especially for those from disadvantaged areas.
Offering free programming to kids, A Love of Tennis has grown significantly over the years and has partnerships with many other organizations who also believe in its mission. Smith says much of their success has simply been through word-of-mouth.
Next project in motion: “The biggest hurdle right now with the kids is transportation, getting the kids to the courts. So we’re going right into the areas where the kids are, with a new program called Tennis in the Streets. It’s very exciting.”
Proudest accomplishment: “I think the biggest thing was this boy who was 14 who was playing video games all the time. He came to the program, he learned tennis, then volunteered for us, and then we put him through the instructor course and now he’s in a leadership position teaching tennis. And he told me this year, ‘I want to thank you for changing my life’. And that’s exactly what I wanted and that’s what keeps me going because I see firsthand the affect tennis can have. Now he joins teams at school, he’s more outgoing and confident, I see his grades improving and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.”
A piece of advice: “I think you have to assess the needs of your community and see how tennis could work in your community to make a difference. Every community has different needs, and tennis is such a good sport that can really make such a positive influence on every community in the country, but you really have to assess the needs and see where it fits in.”
The benefits of tennis in life
Smith is a firm believer that tennis possesses values and benefits that can influence a person’s everyday life in all aspects.
“We have six core values and we feel those are important life skills that will last forever and help you in anything you pursue in life,” she said. “And that’s respect, honesty, integrity, perseverance, commitment and teamwork, and those core values can easily be taught in tennis, like respecting your opponent and sportsmanship.
“We focus on honesty, calling the ball in and out, and commitment because they’re on a team and they have to show up every week. When you go for a job, all those core values are very important and they’re important in anything you do.”
As such, the programs offered by Smith at A Love of Tennis are all-inclusive, not just teaching kids the skills to play tennis – like forehands and backhands – but how to be physically fit in general and how to play with each other. So when kids sign up, they receive physical literacy, learn to play, and team tennis programming.
And of course, at its core, A Love of Tennis is simply providing kids with a fun sport they can play for the rest of their lives.
What impact has the sport made on you?
“I feel it’s just so rewarding to see the difference it makes first hand. Even if I had somebody to do everything for me, I would still teach on the court because that’s where I see the impact and the positive difference it makes on the kids every day. I feel like I’m getting more back than I’m giving.”