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Rivard: You have to see it to be it!

Jun 25, 2021
written by: Paul Rivard
written by: Paul Rivard

What do Jennifer Bishop, Séverine Tamborero and Valérie Tétreault have in common?

Besides holding key positions at Tennis Canada, they are lifelong tennis players dedicated to the sport that has become their careers.

Now, they are working to ensure more girls and women like them have the opportunities to do the same.

By paving the way, they opened the door to the important and compelling Girls. Set. Match. campaign launched on May 31 by Tennis Canada in collaboration with National Bank.

Jennifer Bishop is the Chair of the Board of Directors at Tennis Canada. She began playing tennis as a young girl. Thanks to her talent, she secured a scholarship to an NCAA Division I university in the United States. She was a Canadian junior national champion and has reached a career high world ranking of 7 in singles and 3 in doubles in ITF seniors.

Séverine Tamborero is the Director of High-Performance Clubs and Under-10 Development at Tennis Canada. She played tennis as a junior and earned a U.S. scholarship. She went onto teach and coach and is also a writer and speaker.       

Valérie Tétreault is the Director of Communications at Tennis Canada. She first picked up a racquet at the age of eight and embarked on a professional career that had her knocking on the door of the WTA Top 100. After her retirement from tennis, she learned the ropes in the communications group and eventually took the reins in 2018. Since 2012, she has also worked as a tennis analyst for TVA Sports.

Jennifer Bishop likes to quote Judy Murray (mom to Jamie and Andy), who champions the phrase: “You have to see it to be it!”.

At Tennis Canada, that has become the mantra to convince women to stick with the sport and hope to find a job in tennis that aligns with their expectations and skills. Seeing others like them who have done so successfully is essential.

Even so, the truth is that not many women stay in tennis, and the problem is especially apparent at the bottom of the pyramid.

To rebuild on more solid foundations, Tennis Canada joined forces with National Bank to lead the new Girls. Set. Match. action and awareness campaign.

Changing the face of pro sports

Here, I must point out that a wind of change is blowing over organizations that are even more traditionally masculine than tennis. Indeed, until recently, the NHL, MLB, NFL and NBA were virtually men-only.

Today, Montrealer Catherine Raîche is Vice President of Football Operations for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.

Two Canadian women entered professional hockey when Hayley Wickenheiser, Senior Director of Player Development for the Toronto Maple Leafs, appointed her former Team Canada teammate Danièle Goyette Director of the Department.

In baseball, Kim Ng became the General Manager of the Miami Marlins last November — a first in North American team sports. In March, she was named Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations at Major League Baseball. 

Finally, in basketball, about ten assistant coaches are women. Among them is Becky Hammon, who served as Head Coach of the San Antonio Spurs for one match when the team’s regular coach Greg Popovich was suspended in December 2020.

With each and every first, male-dominated fields become more equitable.

It is certainly a trend, definitely the start of unstoppable change and undoubtedly a logical rectification.  

Now, back to Tennis Canada, which has just taken the next step to transform the trend into a guarantee — one that change will continue and become the new standard in every organization and every sport. 

Gender equality.

Bringing women back to tennis and helping them stay.

While Tennis Canada has entrusted several key positions within the organization to women, the mission remains just as important.

“The foundation is transparency. We recognize the gender gap and will hold ourselves accountable to undertaking and achieving a strategic plan to create gender equality,” said Jennifer, who emphasized the support she has received from the Board of Directors and Tennis Canada President and CEO Michael S. Downey.

The approach is based on hard data: while there is a nearly equal number of girls and boys enrolled in sports in early adolescence, only one in ten boys drop out by their late teens, compared to one in three girls.

“There are a number of factors that result in this statistic,” explained Jennifer. “Body image, pressure, the preference for team sports are among the reasons. Tennis is a solitary sport which adds to the challenge. We want to keep young girls playing tennis, and, in the longer term increase the number of females who play, coach and work in the business of tennis. Women should have the opportunity to have any aspect of the sport as a career choice.”

Jennifer Bishop and Bianca - Rogers cup win
Jennifer Bishop – Photo: Jared Wickerham

It all starts with finding young girls who want to play and helping them love the sport so much they embrace it for many years, whether competitively or just for fun. That way, they will stick with it.

“We want more coaches, too!” insisted Séverine Tamborero. “In coaching, women are often targeted because they’re known to be very good with very young children. But they can also do so much more. At 16 or 17, players should already be able to choose a new path and move from competition to teaching. That’s an aspect we need to work on, but we’ll never get there if we can’t convince young women to stay in tennis as adults.”  

Seeing themselves

In the early 2000s, Valérie Tétreault was in all the tennis headlines. Crowned junior champion at 18, she figured prominently in sports news between 2006 and 2010 with her 130-98 WTA record and World No. 112 ranking, which she achieved in 2009.

Valérie Tétreault
Valérie Tétreault

When she announced her retirement, she traded in her racquet for a keyboard and worked her way to the very top of Tennis Canada’s communications group. In addition to her increasing workload, she found time to work as a tennis analyst on the TVA Sports network in Québec.

In terms of her career and on a personal level, she is exactly the model Tennis Canada needed years before any equality initiatives were ever set in motion.

“Valérie is a great example of someone who began a second career in her sport and quickly progressed through the organization. She is an ambassador for tennis and we are proud of all that she has accomplished,” added Jennifer.

Though the accolades make her uneasy, Valérie acknowledges that her path adds another option to the choices available to young women who may be wondering how to stay involved in tennis. 

“When I retired, I’d always say how much tennis brought me and how I wanted to give back to my sport. My position and work as a communicator on TV are two ways of achieving that objective,” Valérie affirmed.  

Valérie Tétreault and Rafa Nadal

While two former players, namely Andrée Martin (Radio-Canada) and Hélène Pelletier (RDS), are among the very first women tennis analysts in the media, the sports television landscape has changed with the arrival of former pros, including Valérie, Marie-Ève Pelletier and Stéphanie Dubois, who all crossed paths at the TVA Sports studios. Dubois, who has since moved to Great Britain, is now a regular on Eurosport.

Sharon Fichman and Patricia Hy-Boulais have also provided commentary during Billie Jean King Cup on Sportsnet.

“For many former players, their first post-career reflex is to coach. And even in coaching, there are much fewer women than men. But things are getting better,” explained Valérie. “As far as media, it’s great to be able to show young people it’s an option.”

The newly-minted analysts are generally asked to provide insight into women’s tennis, but that doesn’t rule out the men’s game. Over the years, Hélène, Valérie, Marie-Ève and Séverine have commented men’s events on both Québec sports networks.

Better still, in 2017, Valérie and Marie-Ève hosted the three final rounds of the women’s and men’s events of the National Bank Challenger in Granby on TVA Sports.

Valerie Tetreault and Marie-Eve Pelletier
Valérie Tétreault and Marie-Eve Pelletier

Still, the visibility of women’s tennis has some way to go. A case in point are the mixed tournaments, which, except in rare instances like the Miami Open, schedule the women’s final before the men’s.

“Yes, all tournaments have some thinking to do. And so do broadcasters,” Valérie recognized. “But tennis is entering an interesting era, and its stars have big personalities. Besides Serena Williams, of course, players like Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty, Bianca Andreescu, Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza and Aryna Sabalenka generate interest, even in the early rounds. And as we’re getting ready for one of the Big Three in the men’s game to retire, there could be growing enthusiasm for the big names in women’s tennis. Already, there’s the Canadian factor, and the WTA events in Montréal have often set attendance records for all editions, men’s and women’s.”

Making tennis a safe sport

There are no two ways about it: it can be difficult to turn a ship around. Tennis Canada executives are well aware of that and remain clear-eyed about the goals that are within reach. They have established a ten-year plan but would be very pleased to start seeing results at the halfway mark.

“We are, of course, very grateful and fortunate to have a dedicated partner like National Bank that is committed to a program like this,” emphasized Jennifer. “The length of their ten-year commitment to Tennis Canada, our tournaments and this strategy gives us the necessary time to implement new programming without the risk of loss. This kind of strategy is also consistent with National Bank’s own corporate values so both organizations are aligned.”

“Right now, there are approximately 40 Canadian women tennis players who play college tennis in the United States. It would be incredible for us if, in five years, we are able to double that number by keeping more girls in tennis and giving more women a career choice in this sport” added Jennifer.  

Jennifer Bishop and top canadian women in tennis
Photo: Claudio Thoma / freshfocus

Tennis Canada is also proud of the leadership demonstrated to attain another key objective that prevails in all sports.

“We began discussing the topic a few years back, and National Bank has always been part of the discussions. At Tennis Canada, I am especially proud that we have hired a full-time safe sport expert. He thoroughly reviewed our code of conduct to ensure safe training, making the sport even safer for young girls and women,” she added.

According to Séverine Tamborero, safe sport means hiring more women to lead training sessions and travel to tournaments with young players: “It’s vitally important that women become more present in our young girls’ tennis circles. It’s only logical and human! Each and every coach and staff member who supports our young players undergoes a background check. Among the upsides of hiring more women is that we’re creating the jobs and opportunities our approach seeks to generate.”

Casting a new mould

In summary, Tennis Canada has committed itself to a major long-term undertaking. For many reasons, including those touched upon here by Jennifer, Séverine and Valérie, there is hope.

“In the past few years, when I’ve asked our youngsters who their favourite players are, they name Canadians. It wasn’t like that before. What’s changed? Our players have become models. And now, we have to make that happen at every level in our sport,” concluded Séverine.

It comes as no surprise that, in addition to being a seasoned coach, Séverine has also written a book for which the French title is Casser le moule: breaking the mould.

And that is really the goal of the Girls. Set. Match initiative: to break the mould and cast a brand new one—one that is more solid, more equal, more human.