Tennis Canada is the only nation among the more developed tennis nations that has seen significant increases in tennis participation over the past six years (Charlton Strategic research,2016).
•The number of Canadians playing tennis at least once: 2012- 5,055,000; 2016- 6,532,000
•Overall Frequent Play: 2010- 951,000 players; 2016- 2,177,000 players
•Under 12 Frequent Play: 2010- 72,276 players; 2016; 160,902 players
In my opinion, this is due to a perfect tennis storm of elements that came together at the same time to create a special tennis climate which facilitated the effective attraction and retention of adults and kids into tennis leading to the exceptional increases in participation listed above.
So, how did this happen?
•The promotion of the sport in Canada has been very effective, helped by the success of the best Canadian players on the ATP/WTA, junior ITF and wheelchair tennis tours. This, combined with the high-profile exposure of tennis through the Rogers Cup, the Women’s WTA event and home Davis Cup and Fed Cup matches, has helped to increase interest in the sport among prospective players.
•Canada has had, since 2005, a very comprehensive kids programme, promoted by its top players which uses the slower balls and modified courts to ensure that kids quickly have success and fun with tennis.
•Since 2011, the coach education programme has a big emphasis on the adult starter programmes and the use of the slower balls to provide an active and easy introduction to tennis for adults. In addition, the game-based methodology has been a fundamental part of Coaches education for over 20 years and this approach is understood and implemented by the Tennis Canada coaches at all levels.
•Tennis Canada worked over the past decade with clubs, provincial tennis associations, partner organisations and schools to deliver quality kids tennis programmes for under 12s using smaller courts and slower red, orange and green balls and with retailers to ensure the modified equipment and balls were easily available to all. The top Canadian players helped promote it.
•They worked with not-for-profit groups, community leaders and municipalities to advocate for more indoor courts and other tennis facilities to be built, resulting in significant increases in places to play throughout the year.
•They focused on delivering organised and user-friendly play/competition for recreational adults and kids in a social/family environment and made use of new team and league tennis formats (linked to the NTRP ratings) and different formats/scoring adapted to the needs and lifestyles of the players concerned.
•Tennis Canada have a team of highly qualified and experienced “tennis” people leading and driving their development programmes including my good friend Hatem McDadi, a former highly ranked Canadian player whom I played satellites with in Asia in the 80s, who is in charge of Participation – and Ari Novak who is leading coach education. Having Louis Borfiga as head of high performance ensured that the slower balls were promoted as important not only for the starter kids and adults but also for the development of high performance junior players. Borfiga previously worked with the French Federation who launched a successful adult programme using slower balls in the early 2000s. Many of the current successful Canadian Juniors and professional players on the international circuits went through a programme involving red, orange and green balls at the 10 and under level.
•Tennis was promoted as a healthy and very safe sport and a sport for life which helped to ensure government support. It also helped that many new Canadian immigrants have a strong culture and passion for tennis.
•The Federation ensured continuity and gave the programmes sufficient time to make an impact avoiding short term pressure to make changes.
I believe that tennis participation is the most important thing for the future of our sport. A healthy sport has a lot of adults and kids playing and competing in tennis at the recreational level. Because they play and love tennis they want to watch top players playing live and on TV. Because they play, they want to buy things that help them play better, including coaching and equipment.
Most of the things listed above are consistent with the ITF’s five key messages from the successful Tennis Play and Stay Campaign. The resources from this campaign are available in so many languages and can be downloaded from the ITF website. More about Tennis Canada’s successful initiatives can be see on their website.
I am sure there are many important lessons to be learned by other national tennis federations from Canada’s experience! Congratulations to Tennis Canada!
Serve, Rally and Score!