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What We Remember

In late winter of 2012 when our boys were 6 and 4, we spent a couple of days at an indoor resort that happened to be hosting the Under-14 Provincial Tennis Championship for Ontario. What an eye-opening experience it was to see 13 and 14 year-olds playing at such a high level, displaying many of the skills and competitive spirit that one might see on the pro tour.

As I watched two players named Christian and Jack execute breathtaking rallies of 10, 15, 20 spectacular shots just to win one point at a time, I remember thinking that it must be a great thing for growing children to put in the steady effort needed to develop such skill and grit, and to compete through sport - I could imagine some of the many valuable life lessons to be learned from such a journey.

Though I hacked around with most sports through my childhood, I didn't know anything about the junior tennis world, nor had I ever had a tennis lesson myself, so as this epic tennis match unfolded, I looked around the viewing gallery and identified who appeared to be the coach for one or both of these players, taking in the action with the players' parents.

When the match was over, I looked for an opportunity to introduce myself to the coach, and in meeting Jeff Elwood, I was taken by his genuine warmth while meeting a complete stranger, and in graciously sharing some thoughts on how a young family might proceed in giving their children an opportunity to grow in love with the sport while developing sound skills.

In helping our older son navigate his way through the junior tennis world over the past five years, I've developed a decent understanding of a few of the moving parts that make up a high performance tennis culture.

  • You have many wonderful families who are looking to give their children a meaningful experience while they have a chance to develop their fitness and understand the value of embracing life principles like fairness, good work ethic, and perseverance.

  • There are invariably a few families who encourage their children to win at any cost, which creates suffering for other children and their families who are left with little comfort other than the opportunity to understand that sometimes, life is unfair and all of us get to choose our own behaviour, which actually ends up being one of the most valuable lessons of the junior tennis experience.

  • And then you have coaches, men and women who put forth significant physical and mental effort every time they step on court, looking to make an honest living while guiding their students through a most challenging journey, often with heavy expectations from parents.

I have a lot of respect for tennis coaches at every level of the sport. But I don't wish a career as a high level junior tennis coach upon either of our boys. Though there is so much good that can come from such a career, the unsettling reality is that many coaches are one serious injury away from financial strain and potentially needing to shift to a different career. And only they know the amount of stress that can be involved, managing the emotions and expectations of a wide variety of personalities in their players and their parents.

Learning all of this over the past few years deepened my respect for Jeff Elwood. He was a highly respected coach of some of the best junior tennis players in the country, and I was a complete stranger to him, a parent of two little boys who had done little but smack around a balloon with ping pong paddles here and there. And yet, he was notably kind, patient, and thoughtful in sharing suggestions - how extraordinary in today's world and especially in junior tennis under the circumstances of that day.

The truth is, I don't remember much of the specifics of what Jeff shared. What I remember most is that he treated me with genuine warmth, the kind that gets deposited into one's emotional bank account and doesn't go away for years, decades, maybe even for life. It's like Maya Angelou once said:

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

How we treat others, even strangers during brief, unexpected encounters matters. We never know when a simple act of kindness - holding open a door, giving a friendly smile, covering the bill of the person behind us in a drive through, even just sitting in silence with someone who is in pain - will serve as fuel for a fellow human being to believe in the goodness of people. There is real magic in being kind and generous, especially when there is no tangible reward for making this effort.

In 2016, I ran into Jeff Elwood again, unsurprisingly, at the Ontario Provincial Championships where he was coaching one of Canada's finest Under-12 players. It was with great pleasure that I said hello and told him how much I appreciated his kindness when we met in 2012. He was just as friendly and gracious as I remembered him.

Jeff is now in real estate, helping people with the biggest transactions of their lives. In speaking with Jeff about real estate matters here and there over the past year, I know how lucky his clients are to have him representing them - this isn't surprising, of course, as our values are felt by others regardless of our chosen profession. So an unequivocal shout out - if you or a loved one are ever in need of an honest and diligent real estate agent in Ontario, I don't believe you can do better than in going with Jeff; I know that for any future real estate transactions that my family might be involved with, I will be calling him.

Jeff Elwood @ Instagram

Jeff, if you happen to read this one day, thank you for being a reason why I believe in the goodness of people.


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