What started off as a humble conversation with the North Shore Winter Club’s Nicole McLennan ended off … just as humble.
You see, for Nicole, coaching tennis isn’t about coaching tennis; it’s about training human beings. She’s not in this for recognition or awards, which is probably why she’s starting to receive recognition and awards for her work with Tennis BC.
Kelvin: Hey Nicole! Thanks for hanging out with us. Can you tell me a little bit about the award you recently received?
Nicole: I guess so (laughs). Tennis BC gives out a high performance coach of the year award so I was given this for 2014. I work with the provincial team quite a bit, specifically the provincial training camps for under ten and under 12 tennis players. Sarah Kadi works with Tennis BC, her and I started a girls program to get young girls under 12 to play and stay involved. The draws get smaller as they get older so we want to dial them in at a young age. I also started doing trips with Tennis Canada last year, we did an event in Florida and an event in San Diego and it's kind of snowballed from there. I did a national training camp with 2004's in Toronto. We're going to Florida for the junior orange bowl this December.
Tell us your entire life story up until this moment.
It's a little bit random, I played tennis as a junior back in Ontario and I didn’t start competing until 2nd year 14's, which is quite old. I was a strong player in Ontario, I qualified to represent Ontario in Nationals but my junior career was short lived and I quit tennis and left it all together. I hung up my racquet for five years entirely. The competition part was getting frustrating, I was a perfectionist and I was holding myself under the microscope and looking at what I was doing poorly and not what I was doing well.
The amazing thing about coming back as coach lets me experience tennis differently. I've grown as a coach because now I don't hold myself back due to the negatives. There are things I need to work on but I don't get so focused on them. And I try to pass that mentality on to my players.
What rewards do you get from coaching tennis?
I love the moments when someone I'm working with finally gets something for the first time. Seeing how excited they are is so thrilling. I work with a lot of kids under ten so they're all quite new to the sport. I love when they're excited to go out and compete and they come back after having some success. Not necessarily winning or losing but putting shots they've practiced into their game. At that age it has to be about the process, that's the key. I gravitate towards that age group because I like the idea of building an overall person, building habits and character and then that translates into someone who will enjoy the sport long term. If they have a positive outlook and they're process-focussed instead of worrying too much about the outcome then they’re headed down a solid path.
I also really enjoy working with parents and educating them about that path, and helping them when they're doing things that aren't necessarily working. You have to be honest with the parents, and it's all about relationships and building trust with the family. The player-parent-coach triangle is crucial and needs to be healthy. It's such a long term process, the things that are happening now, you might not necessarily realize the benefits until further down the road.
Describe one of your favourite memories from this past season.
It's hard to pick just one moment or one player because there are so many that are doing such wonderful things. I would say one thing that sticks out the most, because it was my personal development wrapped up with the development of someone else. was working with a specific player for my Coach 2 certification. That process with one player and building that relationship, travelling to tournaments together to provincials and nationals was such an eye-opener to what truly matters in youth sports.
She had gone to nationals the year before and struggled. We worked a lot on building her confidence and bringing out the tiger. It was awesome because this past year she went and competed. It was so inspiring, I had always seen this part of her and thought it was just such an an amazing skill she had, this competitive fire, it was really neat to see that. She had strong finishes at both nationals, the doubles final and seeing her realize what she was truly capable of - I saw this confident girl who was stepping up and going for her shots without fear. I saw the tiger.
Where do you want to take your career?
It's a really hard question, it's tough to look too far forward. The age group I'm with now is phenomenal, I'd like to do more with Tennis Canada and travel and be more involved with the team feel you get in those competitions. It's so great to take the young players and be with a team that really takes things seriously and helps these kids with the next steps in their tennis careers. I've learned so much in the last year and half that I want to get better at those things and with all the things I've seen, I can incorporate that into my teaching. But really at this point, it's not about my career, it's about the experience and development of the kids' careers.