National junior tennis players are getting a prime opportunity to sharpen their skills and mental acuity as participants in a summer camp hosted by the Tiger Tennis Club in tandem with the St Lucia Tennis Association Incorporated. The two week workshop features Coach Earl Blanchard, a St Lucian native who holds the distinction of being a PTR (Professional Tennis Registry)-certified professional and boasts over 30 years of experience. Since the beginning of camp last Monday, the players have been put through a rigorous regimen of physical and mental conditioning in addition to technical and tactical training. So far, Blanchard’s methods have been embraced by the youngsters.
“It’s making me more of a persistent and consistent player, and it’s helping me to correct my errors. He’s a coach who has a lot of experience so he knows his stuff,” said 14-year-old Jean-Phillipe Murray.
Zy Richards, 17, agreed adding, “I wanted to improve my game and he is the one to help with that.”
Another participant, 15-year-old Tjimon Louisy, is particularly impressed with the focus on one aspect of the game which he considers an Achilles heel for most players.
“He’s a different kind of coach. He focuses on the mental side more and that’s where we seem to be weak.”
The most senior of the group, Nesbert ‘Nessy’ Vaval, 22, echoed the sentiment.
“I think Coach Blanchard is brilliant at what he does as far as working on the mental aspect, shot selection, and helping us visualize the point. Not only giving us the info on the court but making it applicable to life in general and I think that is one of the things some coaches neglect,” he opined.
Perhaps no one is more thrilled by the initial success of the camp than Tiger Tennis Club Director Sirsean Arlain. What started out as an internal idea for his own group morphed into a fruitful collaboration and Arlain lauded the SLTAI for championing the project.
“I must actually commend them for doing so. They actually stepped in and have provided us with the financial as well as administrative support for this camp,” he said.
Arlain also explained the two-pronged objective of the endeavour.
“Obviously it’s more tailored to elite players, many of our students and players that take part in tournaments both at home and abroad. One, we thought it pivotal that the kids get some experience with a top level coach and two, they get to hear certain things in a different way, a different voice saying it to them. So far it’s been very successful with the kids.”
He went on to add, “Of course our kids can run, jump; they can hit a tennis ball with just about anyone. But as far as knowing exactly what to do in different situations and also the point structures, knowing how to set things up? I think this camp will go a long way to getting them better at these things.”
Arlain was also effusive in his praise for Blanchard, who he considers a virtuoso in the coaching arena; a belief which has been backed up by a marked difference in the players.
“He’s very calm and cool about how he does things and his methods are quite unique. I just find that he can get a kid to do something without ever having to say exactly what it is he’s trying to get done. He knows exactly which drill and what way to go about getting a kid to accomplish the task. We’ve seen that for the past few days.”
But it’s not just the kids who are feeling the impact of Coach Blanchard’s philosophies.
“It’s been an education for me. He just has a different way of doing things. As far as I know coaches are a lot louder,” Arlain laughed. “Like I would get on a kids case but he’s cut from a different cloth. He is very methodical about what he does, yes, but he is not a coach that you are going to hear swearing or even raising his voice.”
As a former top-ranked local player himself, Arlain knows that there are several advantages to having a coach of this caliber conducting a clinic on the island.
“It gives us the opportunity to have some continuity. Coach Blanchard is not one to just come in and do the camp and never check back in on the kids. So that gives us the opportunity to have him come back, give the kids programs so he can actually come in and check on who’s been doing what and how the kids have advanced and how they’ve improved. From the Association’s standpoint, it also gives them a quite reputable coach to give them a report on St Lucian tennis as he’s seen it so far with the kids that he’s been exposed to and probably give them some technical support in taking things further,” he explained.
Arlain continued, “He really has a vested interest in seeing St Lucian tennis actually get better so that we sort of return to our glory days. Personally I would like it to be better than the so-called glory days. I would love to see in the next six or seven years that we put a player on the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) tour. That being said there’s a lot of work to be done.”
One drawback has been the reluctance of other local tennis coaches to participate in the initiative. Arlain remains optimistic that his counterparts will recognize the merit of the undertaking.
“I just think it’s a shame that some of our other coaches haven’t embraced it and haven’t actually come down there and brought in some of their juniors. It’s not a closed camp. It’s open to all. So even the coaches can come down and speak with Coach Earl and say ‘hey I need some help’ with said kid with whatever area of the game that they feel is lacking. We haven’t had that as yet. It would be nice to see actually. Again there’s still a week left of camp to go so hopefully these things will take place.” The camp runs through July 13th at the Kenneth ‘Wriggler’ King Multi-purpose Complex.