Two Programs Serving the Future
For years, this industry has been searching for the magic bullet that will send tennis participation through the roof, making this business profitable for everyone. Many programs and initiatives have flashed onto the scene, only to fade after a few years and much investment.
I don’t think there ever will be one cure-all that will put this industry back on top. What there will be, though — and what we have in place right now — is a series of programs that, over time, will lead to more people playing tennis. Significantly more people.
There are two programs in particular, being run by the USTA’s very capable Community Tennis division, that may very well have the greatest impact on your business in the future. These programs have been functioning a bit under the radar, but already, the impact they’ve had has been huge. And it will only get bigger.
I’m talking about the USTA’s No-Cut Program for high school tennis, and the USTA Tennis on Campus program for college students.
The No-Cut initiative now has signed up more than 1,400 high-school coaches across the country. It’s a deceptively simple idea: Accept on the high-school tennis team any student who tries out. Some teams have dozens of kids playing, some more than 100.
Yes, it can be a challenge scheduling practices and court time for large groups of high-school kids, but that’s where the USTA comes in with its expert high-school coach advisory team, ready to help things run smoothly with advice and resources. The alternative to No-Cut is that while eight or 12 kids make the team, dozens more would be lost forever — simply because they didn’t have the opportunity to play through their high-school years.
Once kids move on to college, the co-ed Tennis on Campus takes over (it’s a collaborative effort by the USTA, the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association, the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, and World TeamTennis). For decades, college students could only play organized tennis in the limited number of varsity team slots available. But this program makes tennis an intramural team sport, and right now more than 25,000 students at over 400 colleges are participating. Not only that, but each of the 17 USTA sections has a Campus Championship, which feeds into a National Campus Championship (held this year April 26 to 28 in Cary, N.C.).
Think of the possibilities: Hundreds of thousands of high-school students can continue to play tennis through all four years of high school because, well, they aren’t being cut from teams. Then when they get to college, they can continue the fun and camaraderie as part of the co-ed intramural team program (since there are so few college varsity tennis spots available).
Combine this with the excellent work being done at the elementary and middle school levels to get kids started in tennis, and you now have a pathway for the sport right into adulthood — a series of programs that is exactly what the future of this industry needs.
See all articles by Peter Francesconi
About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of RSI magazine.