Photo: A Love of Tennis
Some 20 years ago, Danielle Smith was working as a nurse at the Cheo Hospital in Ottawa when she decided that nearby tennis courts at Hillcrest High School would be a perfect opportunity to get more girls and women involved in tennis. The problem was that the outdoor courts were abandoned and in rough shape, so she negotiated a lease with the school board and got a grant to resurface them. The rest is history.
Smith has been operating A Love of Tennis ever since and it has grown to the point where the demand now exceeds the supply and as a recipient of the newly established Game. Set. Equity. Community Tennis Grant presented by National Bank; the program is poised to have an even greater impact on the community going forward.
A Love of Tennis is a co-ed initiative which includes Girls on the Court is made up of a girls’ league for players between the ages of 5-17 as well as a women’s league with both beginner and intermediate divisions for adults with round-robin tournaments and matches. The court time in the girls’ league is evenly divided between lessons and practice in the form of team tennis. Physical literacy testing and social-emotional support are provided alongside tennis instruction. In addition, an asset-based approach is used with all participants, acknowledging, and building upon their strengths.
“The reason I started A Love of Tennis was to help kids in poverty, those dealing with obesity and those with no access to programs,” Smith explained. “I wanted to help them build self-confidence so they can pursue whatever they want in life with hard work.”
The beginner and intermediate women’s leagues are especially popular with 130 players and 70 more on the waiting list for the spring and summer sessions. The women motivate one another and look forward to sharing the court together each week. They love the camaraderie and the opportunity to remain physically active in a social setting.
While a portion of the grant has been used to expand the Girls on the Court initiative to get more people with a racquet in their hand, the remainder of the money will be used to recruit additional female volunteers and provide them with the necessary resources to become tennis instructors so that they can serve as mentors for the group and eventually pursue their Tennis Canada coaching certification. Smith also wants to add a senior women’s league to the program’s growing portfolio and implement A Love of Tennis in other locations around the Ottawa region. She already has access to the courts at Ridgemont High School which still have lots of untapped potential. But she’s going to need help to make her best-laid plans come to fruition and that’s why having more women volunteer coaches is so important.
“I want to empower women and girls to believe anything is possible, inspire them to dream, change their lives and communities in a positive way. When I was 8 years old my mother and brother died in a car accident, and I knew at that time I was blessed to be here, so I was going to give back in some way,” Smith said. “My life has been forever changed by those who come to the court every day and to see how this amazing program has impacted the community in such a positive way has been so rewarding.”
A Love of Tennis has already made such a difference for those who needed it the most and receiving the community grant will only elevate its influence in a community that has fully embraced Smith’s remarkable vision.