By Karina Trkulja
My initial love of tennis came from watching my Dad, Novak, teach my younger sister, Kristina, how to play tennis.
Our Dad had no tennis background, but he had a goal and passion and at that point, he had read all the books on tennis he could find. He believed in one thing:
Talent is secondary to a strong work ethic.
He offered her guidance, structure and trained with her tirelessly. By the time Kristina started a tennis program at Saville Sports Centre in Edmonton, she had already developed a strong technique and had an eagerness to compete. The program can only offer you so much, you have to put in the extra work.
However, what really inspired me was watching Kristina fall in love with the sport of tennis. She was focused, determined and I’ve always been immensely proud of her achievements. We spent a lot of our time traveling together to competitions and training camps.
This was a wonderful part of my life as I watched her grow into an amazing tennis player, but it was also stressful at times as tennis is fiercely competitive. Early on, I realized what it takes to become the best and be successful at it. I always appreciated the work and dedication it takes to succeed in an individual sport; however, I also forget sometimes how much fun tennis is when you take away the pressure and enjoy the recreational part of it.
Since becoming a Mom, I have experienced this thrill yet again through my daughters Ela and Isidora as they have embarked on learning tennis. Some of the best experiences come from this sport. My girls are learning important lessons early on in their life such as:
- Setting goals
- Dealing with winning and losing
- Doing something they love
- Learning discipline
- Being accountable
Because tennis is an individual sport it can get lonely, but it also teaches you to take accountability as you are the only one out there.
Due to Kristina’s tennis involvement and success, my friends often asked me how they could get started in the tennis world. Unfortunately, we haven’t traditionally had many accessible options for kids to learn the fundamentals of tennis in Edmonton.
A Tennis Canada-sponsored ‘grassroots’ program called ‘Little Aces’ was piloted in 2010-2012, under the auspices of the provincial tennis association, Tennis Alberta. Tennis Canada dropped its sponsorship of Little Aces after only two years, but by that time the basics of a sustainable program had been put in place.
To take this initiative forward, a decision was made to bring the former Little Aces Edmonton program under the banner of a registered non-profit society called Edmonton Junior Tennis Society (EJTS).
I worked for a local tennis club (Garneau Tennis and Beach Volleyball Club) as a Business Manager for two years, which provided me with hands-on insight into operating tennis programs and provided many contacts in the Edmonton tennis community.
In 2018 I was approached by a friend who had been the Executive Director (ED) of EJTS. The current ED was resigning and the Board was urgently searching for a replacement. I submitted my application, was short-listed and interviewed, and subsequently offered the position, starting in August 2018.
Later, the chair of the hiring committee told me that, in addition to my strong experience and credentials, my declaration that this job would be a ‘passion project’ really helped them decide on me.
Working in non-profit organizations and making a positive difference in our community has always been a priority for me. When I first started with EJTS, I felt a strong sense of urgency to bring it forward from what was already in place and to find opportunities to grow, both in size and scope. Our purpose is to offer programs that can provide life-long pathways to tennis. Our long term vision is to become the benchmark for the introduction of tennis to children.
EJTS welcomes kids ages 4-15 at six indoor school gymnasium and recreation centre locations between September and April. During the summer months, we offer programs at outdoor locations. We also offer adult programs at Kinsmen where we take kids as young as 16.
In these last couple of months, we have experienced an increase in interest in tennis due to the recent success of young Canadian tennis players, Bianca Andreescu, Felix Auger-Aliassime, and Denis Shapovalov. I’m so happy for the kids in our community to have these young people to look up to. When Bianca’s achieved such success this year, capped by winning the US Open, the young girls got inspired.
My other passion is bringing tennis to children whose economic circumstances make it difficult to participate in paid programming. We have a partnership with Boys and Girls Clubs and work closely with their instructors to ensure that tennis is part of their yearly programs. In association with Tennis Canada, we offer them an introduction to tennis training sessions. We are also investigating opportunities to re-initiate tennis programming in schools (focusing on communities with a significant proportion of underprivileged kids)
EJTS is still a small organization today, and operates out of Tennis Alberta offices, meaning that I’m one of the lucky people that gets to go to work and sit next to my sister and continuously be inspired by her.
It is a long and often challenging journey, but with passion and commitment, we believe we can achieve great things.