Developing and Supporting Young Athletes
written by Michael Paduch
Some of you have only recently enrolled in the Capital Kids 4-week programme, so it is quite possible we haven't met yet. If that is the case, those notes will certainly provide a good background for the programme and for the longer term context of what we are working towards achieving.
As you may have learned from John Wins-Purdy or Fei Wu, the key organizers behind Capital Kids programme, no country or region can be successful in any sport without building a wide base of juniors training and playing with each other over the years. And that is what we are trying to do here.
Over the past few years, Ottawa has fallen behind in terms of the number of juniors who play tennis at the decent level. The economic conditions in our region had a lot to do with this development. We are aiming to change that but it will take time and will require support from parents and coaches.
But first, some facts. It takes a decade to develop a world-class tennis player and Ottawa has produced only 2 players in recent history that could compete internationally at some level at some points in their careers (Jessy Levigne and Gabriela Dabrowski both hail from Ottawa and played at fairly high level competitive events). Several other players from Ottawa, both boys and girls, competed well at the national and US college levels over the years.
That track record is actually OK because not every kid can or should become a world class player, and given our local weather and tennis facilities conditions in Ottawa, that expectation would not be reasonable at this point in time.
What is far more important is that more kids in Ottawa develop a love for the sport, and by participating in this sport over the years as juniors, they become life-long players and people who lead healthy, active lives, who embrace the ethics of hard work and fair play. Those are the essentials everyone who played decent level junior sports understands and remembers for life.
This philosophy of participation in sports for long-term enjoyment and satisfaction from being a part of the tennis family is an underlying concept behind what Tennis Canada calls Long-term Athletic Development (LTAD) model.
Below are the 7 Development Stages of LTAD; please note that the ages change based on gender with girls maturing earlier than boys with a gap of 1 to 2 years:
· Stage 1: Active Start (0-6 years)
· Stage 2: FUNdamental (girls 6-8, boys 6-9)
· Stage 3: Learn to Train (girls 8-11, boys 9-12)
· Stage 4: Train to Train (girls 11-15, boys 12-16)
· Stage 5: Train to Compete (girls 15-21, boys 16-23)
· Stage 6: Train to Win (girls 18+, boys 19+)
· Stage 7: Active for Life (any age participant)
Most of you have children in the Active Start or FUNdamental stages. Some have children in the Stage 3 (Learn to Train) and some, very few, experienced at least for a period of time the elements of Train to Train Stage.
Regardless of the Stage your child is in, the parents role is fundamental and doesn't really change. What we need you to do for your junior athlete child is:
1. Support their efforts by getting them to and from practice on time and by giving them unconditional love and understanding 100%, every day, year round.
NEVER compare your child to other children on or off court because such comparisons are rarely relevant and the pace of development, particularly in tennis, is very individualized, depends on physical development and emotional maturity and personality type of a child.
2. Provide proper nutrition and sports- and weather-appropriate clothing and equipment based on advice of the sports coach they are working with.
Pay particular attention to a racquet, shoes and shorts / skirts a child uses, so they use age- and size-appropriate racquet to avoid injury and develop skills faster, use shoes that prevent falls and injuries or knees and ankles, and use clothing that allows a child to play with at least one tennis ball in their pocket for serving purposes.
3. Help them plan their days, so they don't fall behind with school or other non-sport duties.
Be wise about the amount of time they spend doing other activities. When a child is enrolled in too many extracurricular activities, they can rarely do well in all of them, so some decisions have to be made from time to time or the impact will be noticeable on and off court.
4. Be involved in your child's sport but not too much...
Emotional investment in your child's sports development can be a slippery slope. Adults tend to build long-term expectations and unfortunately only a child can build those for themselves, internalize and deliver or not deliver on them as the years go by. There is a happy story in every child who stays and plays the game of tennis, regardless of the level they accomplish.
Remember to ALWAYS look at your child's adventure with the sport in a positive light.
5. Don't give up prematurely and jumps sports.
Tennis is a very difficult, demanding and yet fascinating sport. Its difficulty is what makes it so magnetic that kids want to stay with it and challenge themselves as they develop. It builds and requires mental toughness, fantastic fitness and a great deal of technical and tactical training and knowledge.
It takes on average a minimum of 2 full seasons (roughly 2 years) to see a child to play somewhat well with reduce pressure balls. If you give up earlier because your child doesn't look like a player on a TV screen, who has been training for the past 14 years to play like that then you will never know what your child might be like. Be patient, stay put and you will be surprised.
6. And finally, while we all love our sport, at the end of the day it is ONLY a sport.
There are so many other areas of life that could be of interest to us and our children. Expose them to all of that and keep them involved in sports as one part of who they are. Your child could be an amateur artist, a professional researcher and a sports man or a woman - all in one. Let them keep their options open as you never know what they will need in life later on.
Dear Parents, thank you for taking your time to read this somewhat lengthy note. Our coaches and I do look forward to seeing you and your young players at one point at Beacon Hill or Sheffield Glen locations. I will make sure to meet every parent at least briefly and to get to know you better.
I also want to make sure that you know that once the 17-week free Capital Kids tennis programme you signed up expires, there are several other options available to you and your play with us including an option to stay and play tennis year round with us under Carleton University tennis dome.
Please contact me if you are interested in playing indoors as we will be lining our the court time and will group juniors based on their levels and objectives some time in early August.
Also, on Friday, August 1st we will be organizing a supervised trip to Montreal to see international female tennis stars prepare to compete at the Canada's highest level event known as Rogers Cup. We do that annually and children love the opportunity and feel very inspired by the whole experience.
Depending on the number of interested children, we may need some parents to join us to help with the trip. It is a 7 AM departure and 8 PM return trip with a breakfast on the way, snacks and a main meal in the afternoon in Montreal. Contact me if you are interested and I will provide you with the details.
Certified Tennis Professional
The "Challengers" Tennis Academies
My contact information:
(preferred) e-mail: ottawaTennisPro@gmail.com