Tennis Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Tennis in Canada has been bolstered recently by a terrific 15 months of play. July 2012 saw both Eugenie Bouchard and Filip Peliwo win Wimbledon Junior singles titles. Marking the first time Canucks had tasted Grand Slam singles success. Fast forward to this past September when Canada, led by Milos Ranoic, pushed Serbia to the brink before bowing out in the Semi –Finals of the world group of Davis Cup.

We are clearly in a golden age of Canadian Tennis, and if you are the governing body of a sport fighting for attention and participation why wouldn’t you try and capitalize on the new found attention with a new recruitment campaign. That’s exactly what Tennis Canada hoped to do in August when they launched a new series of television spots.

The 30-second advertisements made the statement “not every kid in Canada wants to play hockey”. Billed as a playful jab at the biggest game in the country, the ads struck a chord within the hockey community.

It’s too easy to feign offense to the message of the ads, but in fairness it’s true. The point that many in the hockey world took from campaign was more of a reminder the importance of having kids play other sports.

I had the opportunity to interview Hockey Canada President and CEO Bob Nicholson not that long after Tennis Canada introduced the spots and asked him for his thoughts.

“I want all hockey coaches in Canada to encourage their players to play tennis.” Nicholson answered.

The head of Hockey Canada continued on that if it wasn’t tennis he hoped hockey players were encouraged to play soccer, baseball, lacrosse, or any other sport.

The national governing body of the hockey has forever been a booster of long-term athlete development. Not long-term hockey player development, but long-term athlete development. One way to achieve the goal of developing the athlete is exposing them to different types exercise. Making them use different muscles, gain new skills, round out their experiences in the world of sport. Oh by the way, the by-product of long-term athlete development would be developing a better hockey player.

Here is where it gets a little dicey though. While the people entrusted with growing the game of hockey are quick to encourage players to participate in something different in the off-season. For many players there doesn’t seem to be an off-season. Between spring hockey, summer hockey, tryout camps, development camps, 3-3 leagues, and on-ice conditioning your player’s skates are being sharpened 52 weeks a year.

I can’t and I won’t try to tell you that any those aren’t valuable, and don’t have their place. I will however tell you that in my opinion and from my own experience there is a value in stepping away from the game and doing something completely different. But I have to be honest with you; this opinion of mine has little to do with long-term athlete development and more to do with the long-term hockey enjoyment.

I love the game and I am blessed that I make a living working in hockey. There is no place that I would rather be than in a rink, indoor or outdoor, new or old, big or little – I don’t care. If its got a couple of inches of frozen water, blue and red lines, and moorings for nets – I am home. I can and I have discussed the pros and cons of the NHL game for close to 24 hours straight.

I know that I need to leave the rink and I have to involve myself in other topics. It recharges my batteries, it makes me appreciate the game that much more, and I feel like I have been shot out of a cannon when the season finally starts up again. It’s likely not the intention when it was originally penned but as the passage goes “distance truly makes the heart grow fonder.”

We have all been to enough rinks in September, and we have all seen the kids that have that similar passion for the game. Flying around at a million miles an hour having to be dragged of the ice when practice is over. Contrast that to the kids that just seem to be going through the motions before the puck drops at games. It’s too simple to say that the former played some other sport and is just getting back on the ice. While the latter hasn’t left the ice since the last season ended.

So if your player really loves hockey, take a break in the summer. Have them play something else, join another team, learn a new skill, and it will make them love hockey even more.

I’ve even taken my own advice. For the past two off-seasons I have had the pleasure of calling the Rogers Cup Women’s Tennis Association events in Montreal and Toronto. Women’s’ tennis is an awesome game to broadcast, but I know when the tournament is over, I’m only three weeks from being back home in the rink!

About The Author

Rob Kerr is the television voice of the Calgary Flames on Sportsnet West.  Prior to making the switch to TV in 2011 Rob was both the host of Calgary Flames hockey and afternoon drive host on Sportsnet 960 –the FAN for 8 years. CONTINUE.