Thursday, 20 June 2013

Play Tennis, Be Happy


Trying to find the right balance between life and tennis.


Article courtesy of Scott Fraser, president of the Ontario Tennis Association.

I was saddened to hear about Rebecca Marino's struggle with depression and cyber-bullying and her subsequent departure from professional tennis. I read many of the articles that were published immediately following her announcement in late February, but one particular quote from the Toronto Star caught my eye ... "The reason I’m stepping back is just because I don’t think that I’m willing to sacrifice my happiness and other parts of my life to tennis". A young player reading this might get the impression that playing competitive tennis and being happy don't go together. I think it's safe to say that feeling is an exception rather than a rule, however, it does give food for thought in terms of how to increase the likelihood that playing tennis (or any sport) remains a positive experience.

This subject is actually part of a larger issue a special Retention Committee, comprised of PTA presidents and Tennis Canada, began to discuss last year - strategies to retain 13 to 24 year old tennis players. There are many circumstances which lead to teens stopping or suspending playing competitive tennis. Much of this is covered in an ITF report from April 2012 titled "Teenagers in Tennis - A report into youth trends inside and outside of sport", by James Newman. Everything from increased responsibilities at school, work and with family, to relationships and shifting priorities. On the darker side, there comes the (unhealthy) pressure from coaches and parents to succeed, so much so that the player eventually "burns out" or becomes disinterested and moves on.

Whatever the reason, I'm glad the provincial presidents and Tennis Canada are coming together to look at opportunities over the next few years to encourage teens to stay in the sport. One of the keys, the ITF report suggests, is to retain the FUN aspect of playing while maintaining open coach and parent communication and a positive developmental philosophy. Of course, having great coaches and role models, good access to courts and competition at all stages is also very important. Thus becomes the challenge to provide tennis opportunities from teen to adult: where they work, where they play, and where they attend school and University. Some of the recommendations of the Retention Committee will build on these themes. For example, the Youth team tennis leagues format can be modified and marketed for the 12-24 age range, while making it "cool" and social media savvy. As well, the education initiative has to remain a priority to ensure a good pathway for teens moving on to University and College.

From the OTA perspective, we will continue to strengthen and improve our programming to ensure a positive experience for all players - having certified officials at appropriate level sanctioned tournaments to promote fair play and conduct, providing a large base of competitive opportunities for players (800+ events in 2012 alone), working closely with our member clubs and academies who provide much-needed court access to hold these events, and promoting high school tennis participation through the OFSAA federation of school athletic associations, to name a few. In fact, OFSAA tennis championships held annually at York University can currently boast over 300 players competing in 10 events, in large part due to their strong partnership with the OTA, Tennis Canada and York University.

Ultimately I hope that every player will find the right balance over his/her lifetime to keep tennis dear to them and participate at whatever level makes them happy, be it as a club player, volunteer, official or tennis instructor and mentor for the next wave of young players. And maybe even Rebecca can find her way to embrace tennis again in some fashion and be happy again!

Your thoughts and opinions are always welcome. Please email Scott at srfraser@sympatico.ca to share your ideas and input. You can find further articles by Scott on his "Between the Lines" blog at www.tennisontario.com.