This is part four 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.
Sy Silverberg is the perfect example that it’s never too late to pick up a racquet. After retiring from his career as a doctor, he moved to Victoria and started playing tennis when he was 65 years old.
As he was nearing his 75th year, Silverberg – the Building Tennis Communities (BTC) champion for Victoria – decided he wanted to get more involved with the community. Since he had fallen in love with tennis, he found the sport was the perfect avenue to explore.
“I knew nothing about tennis organizations, but I knew how to play the game and I knew I wanted to give back to the community in a more meaningful way than just writing cheques,” he said. “My wife and I really wanted to give back and she is the one who suggested it. She said ‘you love tennis so much, isn’t there something you can do with tennis?’ Immediately I thought that there has got to be hundreds of kids who would love to play tennis and who could benefit from playing tennis but they can’t afford to because of their family’s situation.”
Now he is introducing kids to tennis at a young age as a sport they can enjoy for their whole lives. He registered Society for Kids at Tennis as a not-for-profit in October 2013 and was running his first program by May 2014. Not even two years later, over 2,000 kids have already participated in programs run by the organization.
A piece of advice: “Persevere, there are many times that I had to write or call or even show up in person to get to somebody who could facilitate what I wanted. So perseverance is probably number one. And you have to have passion for it.”
Proudest accomplishment: “Overall, it is having achieved what I have in 18 months. It’s mind boggling what’s happened to this organization. It now feels like it’s dragging me along behind it and I’m just trying to steer it a little bit! In terms of personal satisfaction, there have been some kids who are so inspiring. We had one woman who called me about her nine-year-old son. He’s got a disability, he has no thumbs and one finger on each hand and she said, will you take him on? And I said of course we will. By the end of the first hour, this kid was keeping the ball in play with his two-handed forehands and backhands. He was just great, it makes me cry to talk about it.”
Plans for the future: “We’re going to increase the number of agencies we’re working with, increase the geographic area we work in, and also try to move more into kids with disabilities and see if we can offer them tennis. We’ve got lots of room to develop.”
Adapting programs to fit needs
Silverberg currently works with several different organizations to deliver programming, such as the city’s parks and recreation department, community centres, low-income schools, and different social agencies including Aboriginal and new Canadian groups.
One of the keys has been adapting programming to fit whatever the various groups need. For example, the community centres usually offer eight-week classes while it can differ in school based on their timetables. Sometimes, it’s once a week for a semester while a different school may want lessons in physical education class every day for three weeks.
“We try to do what works best for them,” he said. “In terms of other organizations, in some cases we’ve gone into their summer camp programs and run a week of classes and done a tennis camp for them, so two hours a day every day for a week. Some other ones have wanted two or three hour sessions every couple months. It’s a total range of programming and we try to accommodate to whatever works best for the organization we’re working with.”
All of the classes provided by Society for Kids at Tennis are free. One of Silverberg’s jobs is to acquire funding, and several sponsors have come on board, such as Canadian Tire Jumpstart, Royal Bank, Participaction, and ViaSport. In combination with all of its partners like schools and community centres, Society for Kids at Tennis works with well over 25 organizations to make Silverberg’s goal of giving kids the chance to play tennis a reality.
What is it about tennis that works so well for kids?
“We want to introduce kids to the skills that will help them develop a lifelong interest in sports and physical activity. And tennis in the way it’s taught now with the progressive tennis technique is perfect. It allows any kid to start to feel successful quickly. I got an email last week from a woman about her eight-year-old who had never been interested in any sport and he fell in love with tennis as a result of our classes. And this was a kid who came and wouldn’t play at first, he wasn’t sure and he sat on the sidelines. But by the end of the first class he was on the court and now he’s a tennis nut! Those kind of things make me happiest.”