Valérie Tétreault stepped away from competitive tennis when she was just 23 in part because she was struggling with her mental health.
Now that she’s the tournament director for the National Bank Open, Canada’s national championship, she is improving mental health supports for the country’s tennis players.
Tennis Canada has recommitted to its Mental Timeout program for a second year, now with the support of Beneva, the largest mutual insurance company in the country. Tétreault said that part of her motivation to promote better mental health for tennis players was based on her own experience.
“Tennis is a pretty tough sport, and it can be a lonely sport, depending on your ranking and what’s your financial situation,” said Tétreault, who last played competitively in 2011. “I was a player who was ranked around No. 100, which meant that I couldn’t necessarily afford to travel with a big team so most of the time I would travel by myself and that’s not necessarily for everyone, especially when you’re on the road for several weeks in a row.”
Tétreault qualified for the U.S. Open in 2009 and the Australian Open the next year. She reached a career-high of 112th on the WTA Tour’s singles ranking in February, 2010 and No. 307 in the doubles rankings in April, 2010. After her retirement she began working for Tennis Canada and was named the National Bank Open’s tournament director this past October.
She said on Monday her experience as player has informed how she approaches her new role.
“If you go through a tough time, that means that you lose in the first round and then you go back to your hotel room and you’re by yourself and that’s where it’s important to have a support system around you,” said Tétreault. “It comes obviously from your immediate team, but it comes also from what tennis can offer you.”
The Positive Court Pledge, an integral part of the Mental Timeout program, was rolled out at last year’s National Bank Open. It is a written commitment to ensure a positive environment for all athletes competing in Canada.
Ticket buyers, tournament staff, volunteers, media and players, as well as those following on social media around the world, are invited to sign the pledge as a way to promote a safe environment, but also to break the taboo, and open a discussion about the importance of mental health in sports.
“We just want to remind people that these are human beings, just like you and me, who are playing a tough sport,” Tétreault said of the pledge, which has been extended to Canadian tennis events across all provinces and ages. “We want to lead by example.
“We’re definitely not saying that we’ve found all the answers to making mental health for the players better, but we need to start somewhere.”
Tétreault said the program was partly inspired by former world No. 1 Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open in 2021 due to mental health issues. World No. 31 Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga took six months off in December, 2021 to address mental health issues and is now an official ambassador of the Mental Timeout program.
“I am thrilled to continue in my role as an ambassador for The Mental Timeout initiative supported by Beneva,” said Andreescu in a statement. “Last summer, I was able to bring attention to my own struggles with mental health and to contribute positively to the conversation by sharing my own learning experiences.
“To see the activations on site [at the National Bank Open] with the Positive Court Pledge and Positivity Postcards was really uplifting and I can’t wait to be involved in the plans going forward to ensure that we keep making progress.”
On-site mental health resources will again be available for players at this year’s National Bank Open in Montreal and Toronto. That includes a player-only relaxation zone with weighted blankets and an essential oils bar, one-on-one access to mental-health experts, meditation and yoga, as well as a curated “Musical Timeout” playlist.