By “adopting” local schools, pros and facilities can attract children to after-school programs that will help grow the game and their businesses.
The USTA is calling on teaching pros, parks, Community Tennis Association’s, coaches, and volunteers to carry on the momentum of its School Tennis initiative by keeping kids playing even after the last school bell of the day rings.
With the help of increased funding from the USTA board of directors, School Tennis is emphasizing the development of after-school programs to supplement schools’ Physical Education tennis units being established across the country. The USTA has collaborated with leading physical education expert and curriculum writer Dr. Robert Pangrazi to develop student-friendly tennis units, especially for grades 3 through 6, providing racquets and easy-to-rally transition tennis balls to participating schools.
“For the after-school programs, we’re focusing on team- and play-based programs, not just lessons,” says Jason Jamison, product manager for the USTA’s School Tennis program. “Every time these types of programs are offered, participation is quadruple that of lesson-based programs. People are drawn to playing the game.”
The USTA is encouraging interested pros, organizations, and facilities to “adopt” schools in their area that can feed into their after-school programs. Getting to know phys-ed teachers in the schools, and even assisting with classes or hosting a field trip to a tennis facility, can get youngsters interested in the game, get your name out into the community, and help your revenue stream.
Last spring, Chris “Mick” Michalowski, director of tennis at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Traverse City, Mich., saw more than 6,000 kids as he visited local schools to instruct phys-ed tennis units. By distributing information about the resort’s summer programs in the classes, Michalowski attracted more than 550 kids. “The key is to get them to sign up with their buddies from school,” he says, adding that going into the community to offer tennis programs has given the resort visibility, but more important, “it gives the sport visibility.”
Responsibilities of after-school program organizers include recruiting volunteers, securing a site, program promotion and registration, training coaches, and scheduling practices and matches. USTA Junior Team Tennis, a six-week program with practice and match play, is a recommended format for an after-school program. “Kids love tennis when it’s introduced to them in a fun manner with a ball that’s easy to play with,” says Jamison.
Charging a fee for an after-school program, Jamison says, helps tennis compare to other organized sports for children, like Little League baseball, and also helps the pro or facility generate some revenue. “The image in the past was that USTA School Tennis only focused on exposing kids to tennis in the P.E. class,” he says. “What we’re trying to do now is get kids into something more structured after school.” A fee of between $25 and $60 per child is recommended to cover the cost of a tennis racquets, T-shirts, tennis balls, awards, fliers, coaching, insurance, and other expenses. Scholarships can be provided so no child is turned away.
In addition to School Tennis and accompanying after-school programs, the USTA has launched “Rapid Rally,” a skill competition for boys and girls ages 8 to 13, to further encourage tennis activity among children. In Rapid Rally, players hit a low-compression tennis ball against a wall for as long as they can within 30 seconds. For tennis pros and facilities, administering Rapid Rally is free and easy — racquets and balls are provided, and any wall will do. There are three levels of competition — local, regional, and national. The National Finals are held at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“Rapid Rally can serve as a spark to get kids playing,” says Jamison. “You don’t need traditional courts, and you can use it as a feeder into more structured organized play programs. We see it as a really effective way to get and keep kids in the game.”
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About the Author
Kristen Daley is a contributing editor for RSI magazine.