Advocacy: The Biggest Issue of All?
Amid all the excitement surrounding the US Open, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed about something. What bothered me was just a tiny blip on tennis’s radar screen — and that, I feel, is the problem.
During the Open, the USTA holds its semi-annual meeting, where various committees get together and discuss plans, create strategies, and check on the progress of initiatives. I sat in when the Advocacy Task Force met, and what disappointed me was the lack of attendance at the meeting. Sure, the members of the task force (it’s not yet a full “committee”) were there, but the audience — presumably of those concerned with tennis in this country — was rather sparse.
This meeting, I felt, should have pulled in people from all other committees and USTA departments. These are the people tasked with promoting and developing the growth of tennis in this country, and that, after all, is the USTA’s mission. For recreational tennis in the U.S. — and even for professional tennis — “advocacy” may well be the most important thing that will keep this sport going, and growing. The room should have been overflowing.
Afterward, I mentioned my concerns to Barry Ford, the USTA’s director of outreach and advocacy. I feel advocacy for tennis should be one of the most important things this industry needs to get behind, because advocacy crosses every line in this business. And with the overall economy in the dumper right now, this industry needs plenty of people to advocate for tennis in communities around the country.
What is advocacy? When the USTA started its initiative a few years ago, the focus was mainly on government relations, such as making sure tennis courts and programs are included in plans for public parks, schools and colleges. Indeed, there have been a number of success stories around the country, where courts were built or saved by the efforts of a few who rallied government leaders and community members.
But as Ford told me, advocacy now is much more than that. While people still need to engage the public sector and other nonprofits and companies in ways that get facilities built and tennis programs in place, now advocacy, “is more around seeing yourself as someone who’s helping to change the culture, whether as a tennis professional, tennis parent or tennis player,” says Ford. “You should have the power, tools and strategies for changing the culture.”
Ford and his staff and advisors have been creating these tools, and more, and offering them to anyone who is willing to help. Check out the advocacy website, thebigserve.usta.com. (Note: For some reason, unless it’s been changed since late September, it’s impossible to find an “advocacy” link on usta.com.) Tennis “should be as ubiquitous as soccer is for kids, or when I was young, Little League baseball,” says Ford, who is optimistic that tennis programming for youngsters will continue to grow.
I have to admit that I’m optimistic, too. But it concerns me that the advocacy effort is not yet getting the attention it must have, both nationally and locally. For the readers of RSI, advocacy is more than a “feel-good” community initiative. It can easily determine the fate of tennis in your community — and the future of your business.
Get involved, go to the website, contact your USTA section or district, or the national advocacy folks. And for heaven’s sake, go to the meetings and participate.
See all articles by Peter Francesconi
About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of RSI magazine.