By Sam Cortes, Communications Coordinator
With tryouts for provincial team prospects last month, and training programs and tournaments around the corner, tennis athletes are serving up their best as they get in the zone for the Canada Summer Games.
Tennis Manitoba Executive Director Mark Arndt and Head Coach Jared Connell talk the Team Toba tennis journey leading up to their team selection in January 2022, essential athlete advice, the growth of tennis in Manitoba, and more!
Step By Step to Niagara
September’s tryouts were held to determine which athletes will participate in a 10-week training program starting this month.
“It’s not the final games team that’s going to be training, but it’s those prospects and players that want to get on the final team,” said Mark. “It’s a program that’s preparation for the actual Canada Games tryouts, which are going to be in January 2022.”
Tennis Manitoba will then hold a tournament in January, where results from the tournament will also be taken into consideration for the final team selection.
“There is also a strength and conditioning component to the program, which Neal [Prokop of Sport Manitoba Performance] offers,” said Jared.
Come January, he said the frequency and intensity of this component will increase, as well as the mental training and nutrition sessions.
“We will then select the final Canada Games Team in May/June 2022, and train multiple times weekly through the summer. We use the qualification tournaments and the Junior Nationals tournaments as events to evaluate the players in competition,” said Jared.
Training for tennis athletes is highly individualized.
“They really customize the workouts and identify what the strengths and weaknesses are of the players,” said Mark.
For on-court training, there will be lots of focus on forehand and backhand technique, and consistency drills that are required for proper tennis training.
“It’s about getting the players on the court hitting as many balls as possible and trying to [replicate] match situations – because practice is one thing, but playing under pressure, that’s another thing,” said Mark.
Taking In the Canada Games Experience
For the aspiring Team Toba athletes, it’s about communicating to them how special of an opportunity this really is.
“Take it seriously. Don’t underestimate what it is, because it is a massive games and it’s a massive accomplishment qualifying and representing Team Manitoba,” said Mark.
As a former soccer player who placed third with his team at a Canada Summer Games, Mark can speak to the athlete experience.
“You are treated like an Olympic athlete,” said Mark. “Cherish what you’ve got, enjoy every second, enjoy the process, and enjoy all the steps that it takes [to get there], because the reward of stepping on to the court at the games is going to be second to none.”
Jared hopes it also opens their eyes to future opportunities.
“I hope the athletes will enjoy meeting athletes from other sports and enjoy the environment of a Games. It is a different kind of crowd watching the matches than in a regular tennis tournament atmosphere. I also always hope that competing at a Games will open the tennis players’ eyes to what the University tennis experience can be like, because the team aspect of the Games is very similar to what being on a University team is like,” said Jared.
Jared’s advice would be to be flexible and open to a very different experience.
“Expect the unexpected. Living in a village, a bubble, and competing in a team event will be a new experience for almost all of our players. The lead-up and mental preparation for the games needs to be focused on that. I also would advise each player to work on being the best singles and doubles player if they want to make the Team Toba Tennis Team. Most juniors do not get to play much doubles, but at the games, doubles points are worth the same to the team as singles,” said Jared.
Role Model Motivation
Tennis is growing in Manitoba, and it could be, in part, due to the positive impact of seeing local tennis athletes excel on the national and international stages.
“To see those who are here right in our back yard, and fast forward a few months or a few years later, they’re on the big screen on the biggest stage in the world… let’s put it this way, it makes my job easier for promoting the sport of tennis and getting people into tennis. It’s fantastic,” said Mark.
For the first time, Manitoba also sent a record 23 players to the nationals out of a possible 24 spots this year.
“It’s a massive accomplishment and shows the interest is there. The awareness is there,” said Mark. “Parents and kids are seeing the benefits of being in tennis. It’s a great lifestyle, if you want to do it on your own terms, you don’t have to rely on a team to train with. You can practice at midnight if you want, you can practice at six in the morning – whatever you want. Tailor it to your schedule,” said Mark.
Jared also believes any time there is international success from players from Canada, it gives the sport an elevated platform.
“There is more attention from the media, more tennis is available to watch, and there is a buzz and excitement around the game and the Canadian players,” said Jared.
As popularity of the sport increase, Jared also said it can create extra pressure on the local players, too.
“But there definitely is a greater confidence and feeling that ‘If other Canadians can be successful, then why can’t I?’,” said Jared.