Robert Kennedy will serve as Tennis Manitoba’s Rogers Rookie Tour coordinator in 2016, a post he also held last year. He will organize all of the tour’s events held at numerous sites in the province.
Even before Tennis Manitoba started the Rookie Tour coordinator position in 2015, Kennedy was involved with the tour in a big way: he organized six to eight events a year at different clubs, including Winnipeg Winter Club and Victoria Beach. He said he’s coordinated about 70 Rookie Tour events over the years.
“It gives kids a nice taste of competition, but in a friendly way,” Kennedy said of the nationwide Rogers Rookie Tour, which was launched in 2009. “Ultimately you want the kids on the court playing matches.”
Many of the Rogers Rookie Tour participants are kids Kennedy has coached himself. He works as a coach for the U10 Tennis Manitoba developmental team at Taylor Tennis Club, in addition to coaching at Winnipeg Winter Club and Victoria Beach.
Kennedy also coordinates a tennis program at Constable Edward Finney School. He introduced the program at the school when he started working there as a teacher 16 years ago, and it has operated every year since its inception.
“It fluctuates from 80 kids to I think our highest (year) was 160 kids,” said Kennedy of his school tennis program.
Kennedy got his start in tennis in 1973, hitting balls against a wall at Grant Park High School.
“I remember my first racquet – a Slazenger Service,” he said. “It broke (the strings) pretty much the fourth hit I did with it. I kept the can of balls I got for about five years, other than the ones on the roof (at the school).”
Kennedy’s first employment in the sport came in 1983. Deer Lodge Tennis Club needed someone to watch the club for three days while staff members were at an orientation program.
“I showed up, did three days, and they kept me on as casual for the year and then they hired me full-time for the following year,” Kennedy recalled.
Kennedy worked at Deer Lodge Tennis Club from 1983-87 and also instructed at numerous public courts in the area during those years.
“In the 1980s – the boom years – there were lessons everywhere,” said Kennedy. “We had probably in St. James about seven locations that we taught lessons out of (City of Winnipeg programs). Everywhere you see a court in St. James, we had lessons there at some point.”
Kennedy’s approach to teaching tennis changed after Mark Farand (former Tennis Manitoba executive director) came to his middle years’ school in about 1996 to conduct a tennis clinic. Farand emphasized ball control and had the kids develop their skills by rallying with a partner rather than feeding balls to them.
“Kids were playing tennis after about 15-20 minutes, and I thought this is different from how I learned to teach,” Kennedy remembered. “So then I went back and certified, and started developing the techniques that were being successful.”
A coaching highlight that stands out for Kennedy is meeting and working with internationally renowned coach Bob Brett, who made visits to Winnipeg around the years 2008-2011 to work with U12 players in the province.
“His enthusiasm and passion for the sport was incredible,” Kennedy said of Brett, who has coached such stars as Boris Becker, Goran Ivanisevic and Marin Cilic. “No matter who he worked with – whether Wimbledon champions or five-year-old beginners – he brought the same commitment to the players.”