By Raynee Novak
The “Bigs” and “Littles” from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada (BBBSC) are ushered into the courts at UBC’s Tennis Club for Tuesday camp, each one of them donning a lime green baseball cap. They spread out over two courts, and in various groups they play games with basketball-sized tennis balls.
When the games finish, they are gathered on one court and told to sit down and await a surprise. A hush falls across the area but is quickly lost to whispers. Jill Zelmanovits, president and CEO of BBBSC, addresses the crowd and introduces a partnership with Mercedes-Benz.
“We wish to make communities stronger by making kids stronger through mentorships, like our National Mentoring Advisory Council,” says Zelmanovits. “The hope is that today’s Littles will be tomorrow’s Bigs.”
Then, out walks tennis superstar Roger Federer. The crowd cheers and claps as he makes his way to the centre of the audience.
Ashley Whiteman and David Awosoga are co-chairs of the National Youth Mentoring Advisory Council (NYMAC): a group of young people aged 17 to 28 across Canada who work together to ensure the voices of Canadian youth inform the BBBSC’s mentoring program. They ask Federer, who won five consecutive US Opens, about his various mentors and how they impacted his development.
Federer, a Mercedes-Benz ambassador, explains that while his initial mentors were his parents, he soon started learning from older tennis players who could show him the ropes. Then came his fitness coach. Federer emphasizes the importance of the mentoring process, noting how much it can help a young athlete grow.
“I found myself crying through tennis matches as I was losing, but having the right people at the right time gets you through it,” he says. “And learning from your mistakes makes you go further.”
He mentions the internal reflection and self criticism that we all deal with, adding that the ability to ask mentors for their opinion was extremely valuable for him. It led him to “be the best person I can be, respecting everyone.” He urges the kids to “try to get the most out of yourself—try not to live with regrets.”
Then it’s time to play tennis, with Federer (who retired from professional tennis in 2022) joking, “I hope I still know how to play!”
The fun begins with Federer joining in at each court, giving tips and volleying the ball back and forth with various Bigs and Littles. He easily gets into the groove, moving from court to court while onlookers cheer, and no doubt resulting in a day that these kids will remember for the rest of their lives.
Federer is in town for the upcoming Laver Cup, which he cofounded and which will be held at Rogers Arena from September 22 to 24.