By John Wins-Purdy
I remember when Owen’s mom dropped him off for his first summer camp at St. James Tennis Club – he let go of his mom’s hand and ran out onto the court, not looking back. It was as if he were home.
Patricia McKim, Owen’s Nana, introduced Owen to the sport of tennis when he was a toddler, as they watched all of the Grand Slams together. Patricia would provide Owen with the background on all of the players and Owen would discuss his tennis dreams with her. When Owen was ready to play he enrolled in the after school program at St. James Tennis Club.
In the St James after school lessons, we separate our five to nine-year-olds into three groups based on skill, “heart”, and age. The youngest beginners are called Rabbits, the intermediates are Foxes, and finally, the strongest and most experienced are Eagles. It was clear to Owen what his first goal was: to become an Eagle. It didn’t take long, and before he knew it, he was flying with the other Eagles, playing points, serving and volleying, and competing at the top of the group.
The fact that Owen could step onto the court at age eight and start competing in a game he had never played before was amazing. Of course, instruction and drills are a big part of the lesson but these didn’t interest him as much. He enjoyed nothing more than playing and competing with his friends.
Using the Progressive Tennis system with scaled-down equipment, smaller courts, and lower/easier bouncing balls enables kids like Owen to hit the court and play right away at a young age. When I began teaching at St. James 14 years ago, the youngest student we had that could rally from the baseline with consistency was nine years old and this was after years of private and group lessons and practice against a wall. Today, we have juniors that can rally and play points as young as five years old and this, after only a few weeks of learning and practicing. Tennis in Canada is experiencing a truly remarkable revolution in how it’s being introduced to kids age 10 and under. Tennis is more fun, inclusive, and affordable than ever before in the history of the game.
At nine years old, Owen’s passion for tennis was fervent. He completely dove into competitive tennis by enrolling in year-round coaching at Carleton (I was his coach), playing six days a week (he would have played seven days but he wasn’t allowed!) and competing in over 20 tournaments across Ontario from Sudbury to Toronto in 2013. Owen was honoured by the Ontario Tennis Association for finishing second in Ontario on the U10 Future Stars Tour at the end of the season.
In September 2013, Owen was the only boy from Ottawa named to the Ontario Provincial U10 Team where “the aim of the Provincial Program is to regroup top players from around the province to assist in the development of U10 and U12 international player competencies and norms. Striving to acquire international level competencies at a young age is a key area for player development in Canada.”
Owen’s dream of playing for his country came true this May when he was one of four boys selected by Tennis Canada to represent the Canadian Junior Davis Cup team at the Americas Team Games in Boca Raton, Florida from August 8 to 14, 2014. The Americas Team Games give the top players from the Americas (North, Central and South America) and the Caribbean an opportunity to train and compete with each other for their countries and interact with children from different cultures. Owen and his teammates had the opportunity to compete against the best U11 players from these countries.
From an Eagle in the St. James after school lessons to playing for Canada’s Junior Davis Cup team – not too shabby, Owen! I can’t express how proud I am of Owen and all that he has accomplished so far. We at St. James continually strive to provide a friendly and encouraging environment for all kids to learn how to play this wonderful sport, in hopes that they might grow wings and soar to great heights like this Eagle did.
John Wins-Purdy is head coach and manager at the St. James Tennis Club and regional coordinator for the Ontario Tennis Association.