If you ask an outsider’s perspective on Canada, when referring to its national sport the immediate response would be Hockey. All things considered, there are also those with the naivety to suggest that most Canadians live in igloos. While the numbers exemplify hockey as the most popular national sport, it isn’t necessarily the most prevalent in terms of participation by Canada’s youth. From a parental perspective the most important aspect is for their kids to be safe and build solid character values through athletics. Look no further than the sport of Tennis.
Over the last two decades Tennis has grown not only from a global perspective, but has become quite popular in Canada. A big reason for its growing popularity has been the emergence of stars such as Milos Raonic, Eugenie Bouchard, and Vasek Pospisi and some mention of Daniel Nestorl. The interest in the sport and the capable athletes Canada has produced speaks volumes to the development program within the nation. To gauge an in depth perspective on the growth of Tennis in Canada, I spoke with Senior Vice President of Tennis Development for Tennis Canada, Hatem Mcdadi. Provided is a slightly edited transcript of the interview.
Q and A with Hatem Mcdadi: Senior Vice President of Development Hatem Mcdadi
Q: What are the responsibilities in terms of your specific role?
A: “Tennis Development which includes: high performance, community, grassroots, coaching, officiating, seniors, wheelchair tennis, provincial partners… Really all aspects from getting rackets in the hands of youngsters and families, and the pathway to the Olympics, the Paralympics, Grand Slams, Davis and Fed Cup, and tennis for life. Basically ensuring Canadians enjoy the sport on all levels.”
Q: Now, you spoke about getting rackets in the hands of youngsters. The sport has grown rapidly within Canada and a big factor of that has been the success of Milos Raonic, and Eugenie Bouchard but what was the turning point when did the growth really take off?
A: “There are a few factors… There’s been a lot of really talented families and committed personal Canadian coaches involved with athletes like Milos, Vasek, and Eugenie, and some of the youngsters coming up now… There’s been very committed provincial tennis associations that work in partnership with Tennis Canada to grow and develop the sport. the globalization of the sport has really helped, and by that I mean, the rivalries between stars; (Rafael) Nadal, and (Roger) Federer, (Novak) Djokovic, and (Andy) Murray, Serena, maria and others etc…. Has grown tennis and provided more exposure to tennis on television, it’s brought with it a higher interest and more fans. And then the Canadian phenomena… Eugenie 2014 finals of Wimbledon, and Milos in 2016, it’s inspired a whole new generation to play and get involved… this is just part of the story of growth. Other factors that are contributing include our changing demographics in Canada. Many (new) Canadians that come from other cultures like Europe, South America, and Asia love tennis. It has really helped the sport…. It’s also really affordable, accessible, and there’s a safety aspect. There’s been a lot of talk, about concussions in contact sports, tennis doesn’t have that. It’s really a sport for life. All of the above said has helped. In addition, ten to eleven years ago was the beginning of something really special.”
Q: What was that?
A: “ The Tennis Canada board approved the opening of the Montreal National Training Center, it was really a watershed moment. We went out and hired one of the best coach in the world, Louis Borfiga from France. Louis worked with the strong Canadian Coaches, worked with partners and started the first national training centre in Montreal. Since then we have regional training centre programs in Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary is in the midst of being established. There’s been a really well thought out long term athlete development and sport for life structure and system put in place, the likes of Milos and Eugenie have gone through it…. A number of things have happened but the hiring of Louis… and the opening of the national training centre structure has really helped . In addition, the leadership of our Tennis Canada Board and our CEO Michael Downey at the time, was instrumental in all of the above structures and success.”
Q: Now speaking about Louis, you mentioned he has been integral to the development, what’s his specific background?
A: “He’s a former davis cup player… He also was the leader and ran the top national training centre in France… He was responsible for (the development of great players in France), he has a tremendous track record….France would be recognized as probably the best country with a system in place. They have the best tennis development systems, he has an impeccable pedigree, and background in the sport of developing champions.”
Q: In Terms of Marketing the Sport to Canada’s youth you mentioned the safety factor, is that a big factor to get young children invested to the game?
A: “, it’s an inherent part with the nature of our sport. The big push we’ve been working on with our partners, clubs, schools, communities, coaches, and our provincial tennis association partners is right sized rackets and balls and equipment, what we call kids tennis… It’s so youngsters can have success. There’s four types of balls you progress from the red ball, to the green ball, etc… Also court dimensions there’s three different sized courts, (depending on the balls being used)… A Lot of energy and emphasis has been put into ensuring there’s team competition and leagues, and opportunities for kids to play in a non threatening environment at a young age.”
Tennis Canada’s tireless work developing the nation’s youth the future of the sport couldn’t shine brighter. In fact the numbers show overwhelming success. More than 600,000 children between the ages of 6-11 picked up a racquet in the last year. This represents a major increase of more than 80% for that age group. The study also shows that the majority of the new fan interest in the sport overall is coming from a younger demographic.