Garry Valk talks about hockey all the time. So I decided to sit down and talk with Garry about something else: tennis.
Garry’s daughter Alli is a quickly-rising star amongst British Columbia’s youth tennis ranks. Through the eyes of daughter at an early age, Garry’s passion for tennis was sparked and a new devotion was born from a game that’s a long way from the hockey rink.
You see, coaching with Garry for the past few years, I realize that all the heated conversations we’ve had about hockey players, the passion that Garry has for hockey is really just a passion for sport in general. Garry is all about competition. If you’re not competing, then you shouldn’t be playing.
As it turns out, if you replaced hockey with tennis in all our talks, the conversations would probably flow just the same.
Tennis is a hidden gem at the North Shore Winter Club, a corner of the community that all the smartest people at the club are trying to keep secret. I caught up with Garry recently to get the truth about tennis, how he’s learned the game through Allie and how his competitive edge translates to the court.
KC: How did you first get into tennis? Were you a fan before Alli was born?
GV: Not really, it’s all through Alli. You see, in the early days, we wanted Alli to find something she could do that she would love. It’s the key to any parent - to find a sport their child really enjoys at a young age. It’s not necessarily what they’re good at or what you want them to be good at.
KC: And Alli was into tennis right away?
GV: Nope. Alli played hockey and soccer from five or six until she was 12 years old, but I could see it wasn’t who she was. She just wasn’t getting up for it. Because we have tennis here at the North Shore Winter Club, she tried it. She liked that she didn’t have to rely on anyone else, it’s all you in tennis. If you play bad you lose. That’s her personality. So she started playing two days a week at 10 years old, three days a week at 11, six days a week at 12.
You don’t play anything six days a week at if you aren’t passionate about it.
KC: I don’t want to dive too deeply into it, but what are the similarities between tennis and hockey?
GV: Hockey, tennis, soccer it’s the same as any other sport. The kids who compete and gravitate to their game at five or six are way better at 10 years old. You can start late, sure, but it's hard to catch up, especially in tennis. Tennis is tough, it’s a game of losing. You don’t have to like losing, but if you’re devastated by each loss then it’s going to be difficult to continue. In each category, each gender, there’s only one best payer in BC, so you’re doing a lot of losing. As parents, Tanya and I never put pressure on Alli to win. In hockey there’s so much pressure on coaches to win. In tennis, if the coach puts the pressure on the player to win, then the player won’t continue.You’ll never win enough to please your coach. For Alli, she’s lost a lot…
KC: …And this is how she learns.
GV: That’s how she learns. The pressure comes from within. As a coach or parent you have to understand the progression. Just putting in the time at 13 helped her get a few wins, she started to taste it, and then at 14 she made BC Nationals.
KC: So that’s the story, right? Young tennis player growing up in a hockey environment, finds tennis, makes good, wins it all, right?
GV: Haha, yeah, except she didn’t win!
In the next post, I’ll talk to Garry more about climbing BC’s youth tennis ladder while, the honour system and yelling at referees.