By Alexander Cole
When people think of students who are involved in university sports, most would assume that the student is a player or trainer for one of the teams. Dominic Labelle, however, has taken on one of the most important roles a team could offer.
“At one point I decided to quit because I couldn’t continue to play,” Labelle said. “I was already coaching tennis during the summer and during the season so I decided to take [the old coach’s] place.”Labelle is a third-year exercise science student and is the coach of the Concordia University tennis team. According to Labelle, the tennis team was founded in March of 2011 by a couple of students who wanted to play tennis at the university level. By September of that year, Labelle made the team as a player but in February of 2012, the coach at the time had to give up the position, which left a spot for Labelle.
As Labelle described, it’s not rare for a student to coach the tennis team because the club does not yet have an affiliation with the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS). Instead, the league is organized by Tennis Quebec, meaning that the club is not a varsity team, and is not under the Stingers brand. Labelle is not paid for his work and hiring a paid coach would make the season more expensive for players. The team’s lack of an affiliation requires Labelle to be more than just the coach.
“Right now I’m running the budget for the team,” Labelle said. “This means that it’s up to me to buy the balls and the t-shirts. I also have to reserve the courts. But my goal though is for the team to become a varsity team.”
For Labelle, being a student and managing the team becomes even more difficult when it comes to the travel aspect. The tennis season is from January to March and in the 15 weeks that the season runs for, the team travels to places such as Laval, Boucherville, Vaudreuil and Longueuil. This means that every weekend can take up a large chunk of Labelle’s studying time.
On weekends when the tennis team plays, Labelle is responsible for making his lineups and ranking his players. As Labelle described, tournaments can become hectic for him as he has to watch over six games at once.
“For sure sometimes I would like some help and have another coach,” Labelle said. “But at the same time, I find that I am more dedicated to the team, which I like. What’s nice is that I can get some of my extra players to help out on the courts when I’m on another court.”
Labelle added that tournaments can sometimes run for five to six hours, with tournaments usually starting at 4 p.m., which means finishing up at 10 p.m.
Since joining the team, as a player first and then as a coach, Labelle has seen the team and the league they play in improve immensely. According to Labelle, last season was a rough year for the men’s team as they had a hard time winning games. This caused some players to give up and not put in as much effort. But that has changed.
“Both the men and the women’s team have really done better,” Labelle said. “Especially with the guys, they are extremely competitive now. When the team loses, they get mad and want to do better. Even though we aren’t associated with the Stingers, everyone wants to represent Concordia.”
“The competitiveness is great because I’m challenged as a coach when it comes to training and keeping up with my team,” Labelle said.
For Labelle, being a student as well as a coach can be challenging when engaging the players, as some see him as more of a friend, than they do a coach.
“I find that the guys are more open with me when it comes to training and taking advice,” Labelle said. “With the girls I find that I am more of a friend. They realize that I’m the same age [as them] so it’s more of a friendly atmosphere.”
Labelle added that some of the players on the team have played at the NCAA level which means they have more experience than he has. This means that Labelle’s role as a coach is more about making sure everyone does their exercises and learns from their mistakes after each game.
“I’m not here to change their whole game,” Labelle said. “At this level, it’s more about thinking up new drills and bringing something new to the table.”
Labelle hopes that in the future the team will become affiliated with the CIS, as it would help legitimize tennis in Canadian universities. In Western Canada and Ontario, some tennis teams are considered as varsity teams but many still want the backing of the CIS. However, with the rise of a tennis league in Atlantic Canada, Labelle is hopeful that tennis will soon become a CIS sport.
“Representatives from the CIS will be at the Nationals this year,” Labelle said. “The level of play is getting close to what NCAA division two is like. I think in three years we could see tennis becoming a part of the CIS.”
In the spring, Labelle will be graduating from exercise science and is then off to the University of Ottawa for graduate school where he will be in the university’s sports psychology graduate degree. While attending the University of Ottawa, Labelle plans to continue working with Tennis Canada and Tennis Quebec as a coach. He even sees himself back with Concordia one day.
“If the league can become affiliated with the CIS and become more official, I would love to have a full time job with team,” said Labelle.