Tennis Canada is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year as stewards of the game in this country. Over the next several weeks, we will be honouring Canada’s vast history in tennis and remembering many of the people and moments that have played a role in creating the fabric of Canadian tennis. This is part four of a five-part series.
A full slate of tennis courts in use at the neighbourhood public courts on a warm sunny day. Playful banter between friends during a competitive doubles match at the local club. A budding young tennis player hitting balls across the net with their parents.
These are scenes that play out across Canada every day. And at its core, it is this activity that makes tennis a healthy sport in Canada. The more people play tennis, the more people talk about it, and the more people watch it, the more Canada will become a leading tennis nation in the world.
Not everyone can be a professional tennis player. But everyone can play for fun and reap the benefits of the sport.
Today we are going to look at the grassroots element of tennis in Canada.
Backbone of tennis in Canada
Tennis Canada’s most important partners for growing the sport across this country are the provincial tennis associations. It is these organizations that know their communities and players the best and can provide on-the-ground support and programming based on their needs. One hundred and twenty-five years after the initial launch of Tennis Canada, the sport would not have the positive outlook for the future it does right now without the PTAs.
Click here to find out how to reach your own PTA.
Growing the foundation of the sport
When you get right down to the basics, tennis could not grow if there are no tennis courts to play on or coaches who can teach people how to play the right way.
A huge priority for Tennis Canada right now is indoor facilities, which is a need in many communities throughout the nation. Over the past few years, the organization has contributed to several new facilities on the east coast, including the Daniel Nestor Tennis Centre in Bedford, Nova Scotia, Cougar Dome in Truro, NS, and Abony Family Tennis Centre in Fredericton. The next big project is a new 14-court indoor and outdoor facility in Calgary that will be opening next year.
“It’s resulted in significant growth in tennis in this area,” Jerry White, a partner of the Daniel Nestor Tennis Centre, said last year following the opening of the facility. “We’re doing a lot of outreach in schools, introducing the game to a lot more kids and families. We’re giving them not just a place to play but showing them how to play. It’s had a tremendous impact on the community and there’s a lot of buzz about it as well.”
From a coaching perspective, the Tennis Professionals Association (TPA) was created by Tennis Canada in 2004 to grow the profession in Canada and serve coaches, instructors, and tennis professionals with various resources and benefits. These are people who work in clubs throughout the country, teaching beginners all the way to burgeoning pros. The organization has grown exponentially from 800 members at its inception to over 3,000 people at the end of 2015.
Tennis at the community level
When someone wants to start playing tennis, their first stop is often the local tennis club. Running their own social events, tournaments, lessons and other programming, tennis players have been going to their own clubs for years. These clubs have been a mainstay for the sport in Canada for most of the past 125 years, and will continue to be an important part of growing tennis even more.
Looking to expand the reach of tennis into local communities across the country, Tennis Canada started the Building Tennis Communities (BTC) strategy several years ago. Today over 120 communities are involved, led by community champions who lead the promotion of tennis and implementation of programs in their own neighbourhoods.
The Jane/Finch Community Tennis Association just around the corner from Aviva Centre in Toronto began as a BTC and is now a full-fledging organization on its own with after-school programs, weekly leagues, and camps. A unique feature is that many of the kids have graduated to become trained, paid coaches in the programs.
“It’s been a pretty rewarding experience because being a part of the league has fostered my love of tennis and made me a better player,” said Aditi Sriram, who started playing in the leagues in grade six and at age 16 is now a coach. “Now that I get a chance to coach, I see myself in all the little kids because I was once in their place and it’s really nice for me that I get to give back what the league gave to me.”
Stacy Lewis has been BTC champion in Whitehorse for years, transforming the tennis community in the northern city. She is just one of many dedicated individuals across Canada who are finding ways to integrate tennis into their communities and make a difference in people’s lives through the sport – and that difference is what keeps her going.
“Giving someone something that’s fun to do and providing them with the tools to do something they’ll enjoy their whole life – that to me is a real gift to people,” she said. “And you see it all the time when people have big smiles on their faces when they’re out there, and that’s the biggest thing for me.”
A sport for life
A sport for life – this is a common refrain when talking about tennis. But these aren’t empty words, rather it is a truly meaningful statement as tennis really can be played from the time kids are barely out of diapers all the way until one’s twilight years. Multiple generations and people of all different abilities can share a court together.
Tennis has become easier for kids to enjoy at a younger age thanks to the introduction of Kids Tennis, which uses right-sized racquets, softer balls and smaller courts and thus allows kids to succeed and have fun more quickly. Getting Kids Tennis into schools and creating more Kids Tennis leagues is a major focus of Tennis Canada. Leagues allow kids to play tennis at their own pace and with their friends. Little Aces leagues have already flourished in several communities, with Mississauga being the gold standard. The program there has advanced into wheelchair tennis for kids as well.
“It’s all about playing level,” Albert Fong, the chair of Little Aces Mississauga, said last year. “It doesn’t matter if you are in a wheelchair or able-bodied, as long as the kids are closely-matched, they will have fun. So we always put kids at a similar level of play on the same court. The whole concept is that if the kids come here to play, they will have fun and they will come back.”
Did you know that seniors tennis starts at age 35? Yes, it may seem too young to be considered a senior but all that means is there are organized tournaments and you could compete for national and international titles. Tennis Canada holds several seniors tournaments throughout the year, culminating in the Steve Stevens Senior National Championships every summer. And at a local level, it is seniors who are the lifeblood of many clubs, participating in regular social events and tournaments.
Why play tennis?
Danielle Smith, the BTC community champion in Ottawa and founder of A Love of Tennis, reiterates the benefits of tennis perfectly when speaking about her organization’s goals.
“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.”
Tennis Matters, the fundraising arm of Tennis Canada, has focused its latest campaign on those exact benefits and values learned through tennis: Nailing your serve boosts confidence. Winning your first match gives pride. Respecting your opponent fosters sportsmanship. Making new friends gives joy.
And beyond providing practical skills that can last a lifetime, tennis is essentially about keeping people physically active and healthy while having fun at the same time.
Be sure to check out the rest of the Tennis Canada website to find out more about how you can be involved in tennis across the country.
The final installment of the Tennis Canada 125 series will be a look ahead to the bright and promising future of tennis in Canada.
To view more Canadian tennis moments, visit our 125th anniversary microsite and celebrate with us!