Racquet club sees upswing in participation 

Warm weather driving people to club

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAN FALLOON - Lovin' tennis Whistler Racquet Club manager and director of tennis Kirk Paterson and player-coach Ben Belanger are shown at the club on Feb. 16.
  • Photo by Dan Falloon
  • Lovin' tennis Whistler Racquet Club manager and director of tennis Kirk Paterson and player-coach Ben Belanger are shown at the club on Feb. 16.

Skiers and snowboarders have been causing quite a racket expressing their displeasure over the lack of snow on local mountains this year.

Several others, though disappointed, have been grabbing a racquet instead.

Whistler Racquet Club manager, and director of tennis, Kirk Paterson explained the club has undergone a transition in recent years, moving away from being exclusively a member-based club to allowing more public programming to create a "hybrid."

"We always look at our schedule and try to add a few more programs," said Paterson, who has worked at the club since 2000 and became manager a decade later. "We're in between because Whistler's unique. We adapt to that, and we want to serve the community and have programs for all the different user groups, which could be locals, or visitors, or kids, or adults, or beginners or advanced (players).

"Some people want to learn and some people want to play."

Paterson explained on warmer days, some snow-lovers might end up doing both activities in a day. The goal is generally for the programs to be 75-per-cent full, but they've regularly been at capacity, he said, adding that the club isn't "cliquey" and regulars are used to new people showing up.

"This year has been a bit easier than normal because the weather has brought people here," he said. "Every weekend since October, we've been full, but we don't fill up until the day before, because people wait to see what the weather's like.

"If it was a weekend, they might go up in the morning or play here in the morning and wait for it to soften up."

The club is offering classic programming like Drill & Play, a combination of skill exercises and gameplay, and newer offerings like cardio tennis, where players perform drills but remain active even when not smacking balls.

"After you hit your balls, you have to go through a footwork circuit, so you're shuffling or going through ladders," he said. "We also throw on the music for that, so it motivates people to get moving."

Making the realization that a lot of kids follow an adult's lead when it comes to skiing or finding other activities, the club shifted to a drop-in format for youth programming as well. Paterson sees some talent in town, noting Whistler local John Chan has starred for the University of Waterloo's team.

There are some up-and-comers, as players like Ben Belanger, 11, have taken to the sport. Though he's only been playing for a year, Belanger has reached a point where he's able to volunteer as an assistant coach for younger kids before taking his own lesson. Belanger explains he primarily helps the players with their forehands, backhands and volleys.

He has been coaching for three months and has already seen his perspective on the game start to change as it slows the game down a bit for him.

"It helps me out to hit the ball slowly," he said. "I like teaching. It helps to calm me down.

"Before my lesson, it helps me make a better shot — a better forehand, better backhand."

For the first time, young players have Canadian role models on the world's largest stage, as Milos Raonic is currently ranked sixth and Eugenie Bouchard is ranked seventh. Belanger said he eventually hopes to make it to the professional ranks, and Paterson noted Raonic's and Bouchard's continued high profile has allowed kids to dream.

"It's huge," Paterson said. "Everyone is so excited with Raonic, sixth in the world now, an all-time high."



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