Next Gen Tennis League is a new tennis league in Canada. The league is based on the UTR (Universal Tennis Rating) which allows players to compete in competitive matches and improve their rating. This provides an opportunity for former college players and pros to stay involved in the competitive scene and for aspiring juniors as well as current pro players to compete close to home. Most importantly, it provides developing juniors exposure and a pathway to maximize their UTR rating in order to pursue US College opportunities without all the traveling expenses involved in pursuing an ITF ranking.
Questions for Mike Hall
Co-founder, Next Gen Tennis League
Mike Hall is a veteran tennis coach and Director of High Performance at ACE Tennis Burlington (southwest of Toronto). He is a former recipient of the TPA Gary Caron Scholarship award (2008), TPA and Tennis Canada High Performance Coach of the Year (2017), and Tennis Canada Excellence Award (2011, '15, '17).
He is a Tennis Canada Coach 4 candidate, a graduate of the Tennis Canada Mentorship program, and has been with ACE Tennis at the Cedar Springs Health, Racquet & Sportsclub since 2003.
TCB: Where were you born, Mike?
MH: I was born in Hamilton Ontario, about 45 minutes from Toronto. Raised in Ancaster, Ontario.
TCB: How old were you when you discovered tennis and who got you into it.
MH: I was about 10 years old when I started playing tennis. My brother played competitively year-round and competed in OTA tournaments. I didn’t follow quite the same path though, playing mostly in the summertime at the local club with friends, adults, and anyone who was hanging around the club.
TCB: Did you play high school and/or college tennis?
MH: I played for my high school a little bit (Ancaster High) but we don’t have the same high school tennis structure here in Canada that is done in the USA. We mostly would have 2-3 practices before a regional tournament and that was it. As for college, I was never competitive enough to explore this avenue as I didn’t really compete much and played only during the spring and summer months.
TCB: When did you decide to become a teaching pro and why?
MH: My brother became the teaching pro at the local club (Dundas Tennis Club) and so this is where I would spend most of my time in the summers from the time I was 15 and on. After a few years, my brother moved on towards being a full-time high school teacher and I took over his position as the Head Pro at the club.
TCB: When did you join ACE Tennis?
MH: I joined ACE Tennis in the fall of 2003. I remember working at the local community club as the Head Pro and I had a student who was a pretty good 12-year-old. As my club was a summer-only community club, this student had started training in the wintertime at ACE Tennis with Pierre Lamarche. The parent of my student went and spoke to Pierre regarding giving me an opportunity to work as a coach at ACE. At the time I was starting a year-long certification program with Tennis Canada - High-Performance Level 2 and I needed to have a year-round coaching job to enroll in the program and ACE seemed like a good place to learn and develop as a coach.
TCB: Are you the founder of the Next Gen Tennis League? How did this come about?
MH: Both Yves Boulais (Tennis Director at the Ontario Racquet Club) and myself are the founders of the Next Gen Tennis League.
At the start of the pandemic, both Yves and myself started to feel a little concerned about the future of our sport, the competition, the players, and the programs, etc. Before the pandemic, we were already struggling to organize trips abroad to get ITF points and development experiences for our young performance players. The economic cost, logistics, missing school, and finding the proper coach was always difficult to manage and make happen.
We realized that traveling will probably not start for a while and that even if traveling starts, the cost will probably be much more expensive. The quarantine requirement also prevents many people from traveling to play tournaments. And as for the tournaments themselves, how many will be available? Are the number of tournaments sufficient to supply the demand? Will the few tournaments available be extremely strong and provide the opportunity to only a very few? How will our players get proper exposure to get scholarship opportunities?
First, we now have the UTR rating system which allows everyone that competes anywhere the possibility to have valid international exposure. It does not matter that you get your rating playing locally or that you had spent an insidious amount of money playing the ITF junior tour tournaments. Your rating is your level of play (you get no bonus for playing more or playing far away). This allows us to break free of the ITF competitive structure potentially saving us time, money, and headache. We see this as a great opportunity to improve the logistic of our sport.
In Canada, we have indoor facilities that during downtime have low occupation. We have graduate college players that are just fresh out of the competitive scene that provided the right opportunity for them and they would love to stay in the game. We have eager junior players that are thirsty for fun and competition. We have supportive parents that want to provide the best opportunity for their children. We have local businesses that want to be known by the locals and would love to participate in their communities. We have upbeat coaches that want to work and help that would love to use their skills in a team environment.
If we eliminate the traveling option, we realized that with UTR we have everything we need right here, right now locally! But, we needed to do a better job of organizing it…
Both Yves and myself believed that there is a better way to deliver tennis. Top juniors need competition to keep progressing and to do it locally the league would provide prize money to the top players, mostly former college players and transitional pros as an incentive to play in the league. Also, most juniors will end up going to college, but most of them compete in pro-tournament-style events with barely anyone watching. We decided that our tennis league should be fun, exciting and entertaining. The college format would create a far better atmosphere while preparing the juniors for the team tennis of the NCAA.
Playing tennis tournaments means that the whole family is hijacked for the whole weekend or the week. Our league would play once a week with the event taking around 3-3.5 hours to complete. The family is free to have a normal life while one of their kids enjoy playing tennis.
In order to provide good competition for everyone and not playing always the same people - our Premier 'NGTL’ is for players 13+ with no gender categories, you are simply selected by your UTR rating. As long as you are 13 years (in 2020) and older, you are eligible to register. All the club facilities are within driving distance and all within the GTA. We are helping to fill their downtime for courts. And for the parents, there are no overnight hotels and dining out which in turn saves them money.
TCB: How big is the NGTL league currently? What cities/Provinces do you cover?
MH: Currently, we are running 1 league in the Toronto area with 6 teams of 8 players (48 players total) with a UTR range of 7.0 to 13.5. In January we will start our Junior NGTL which will be for players ages 10-16, along with our Premier NGTL which will start its second season. We have had interest from other cities and provinces and NGTL will look to expand across Canada in 2021.
TCB: What are your challenges running NGTL?
MH: Fortunately, the NGTL has suffered almost zero setbacks to date outside of Covid related issues. Currently, we are experiencing issues with member clubs not being able to run the NGTL as many of these clubs are not running events that allow outside guests to participate due to the spike in Covid cases in the GTA. As the weather becomes cold, it is becoming more difficult to play outside and we rely on these clubs to be able to host events such as the NGTL.
TCB: What are your plans for expansion?
MH: As mentioned earlier, we already have a good size of the registration for our junior league which will start in January of 2021 alongside the second season of the Premier League. We are looking to expand the league into other provinces once the Covid situation becomes a little more manageable for the clubs. By summer 2021, we would like to have leagues in other provinces as the outdoor weather makes it more possible for events to take place at outdoor facilities without as much worry for Covid transmission.
TCB: When can we see NGTL in the U.S.?
MH: Our plan once we have leagues running across Canada is definitely to spread this across North America. There are many areas in the US with large facilities and a large playing population which would greatly benefit from the NGTL. Anyone who has ever been to a college match knows the excitement in watching these types of events and would most definitely like to be a part of it.
TCB: What is your tennis racquet of choice?
MH: I have been sponsored by Babolat for the past 10 years.
TCB: Any plans to add Pickleball to your league?
MH: As of now, we have no plans to add Pickleball to the NGTL, however, we are certainly open to the idea of using this concept within other sports.
TCB: Thank you, Mike.