The Sport of Opportunity
The new USTA president says to reach our full potential as a sport, we need to provide meaningful opportunities to people.
By Jon Vegosen
It is a distinct honor and privilege to be leading the USTA as its 50th president. I am committed to the growth of our sport. I look forward to the challenges that lie ahead, knowing that the people who put a face on this association — our unparalleled volunteers and staff — are our greatest asset. Their boundless talents afford us the opportunity to plan and to achieve without limits.
The USTA already has a compelling mission — to promote and develop the growth of tennis. But the opportunity lies before us not only to further that mission, but also to transcend it — to put in place a plan that not only will help to grow the game, but also enhance the lives of those who play it.
Imagine if instead of only promoting and developing the growth of tennis, we also devoted ourselves to promoting and developing the growth of people through tennis. Imagine if we became known as the sport that is genuinely concerned about the lives of its constituents and a sport that is responsive to their needs. Imagine if we created pathways for youngsters from diverse backgrounds to easily pursue our sport in their communities, at their levels, on an affordable basis that would not require them to sacrifice educationally but would strengthen and amplify their personal growth. Imagine if we put in place a player development system that aims to create the conditions for developing not only champions on the court, but also champions in life.
I have always seen tennis as the sport of opportunity, and that is the theme for my administration. In order to reach our full potential as a sport, we need to be sure that we are providing meaningful opportunities to people.
I recognize that tennis has often been perceived as anything but a sport of opportunity. It has too often been viewed as elitist. We have made good progress in taking some of the air out of that myth. Particularly during this past decade, we have become a more inclusive sport that embraces all communities. Michelle Obama’s selection of tennis for her “Let’s Move” initiative implicitly recognizes this.
But we have not yet realized our full potential to be the sport of opportunity for all. Not enough people are cognizant of the countless opportunities tennis provides. And, more importantly, we still have yet to maximize the opportunities that our sport can and should offer.
I have established six priorities that can support our efforts to be “The Sport of Opportunity.” The first is to maintain strong and transparent relations with our partners and enhance volunteer service opportunities. The second is to advance the financial soundness of the USTA. Without both, we cannot fulfill our mission.
The third priority is to promote and enhance the youth-collegiate continuum — from 10 and Under Tennis right up through college. We must continue to reach out to youth to get them playing tennis and keep them playing during their lifetime, and we must significantly expand the base of juniors 10 and under playing competitive tennis on courts using the QuickStart Tennis format. To do this, we need to have an emphasis on fun and fitness, and make tennis affordable, accessible, and relevant to families and their kids.
My fourth priority is to build cross-cultural competence to ensure successful diversity and inclusion. It is imperative that we embrace diversity and inclusion in the broadest of terms — to respect not just differences such as gender, race, religion, national origin, and disabilities, but also differences in sexual orientation or preference, generational differences, economic differences, and differences in thinking style. As author and diversity thought leader Andrés Tapia has stated, we must move from “I tolerate your differences” to “I need your differences.”
The fifth priority is to leverage the USTA’s commitment to education. The USTA already has in place a tremendous infrastructure that can support and promote this “college imperative.” Our challenge is to determine how the USTA can best promote the importance of every American youngster obtaining a college education, and drive home the idea that tennis is the sport of opportunity for achieving this goal. To support this effort, I have created a Tennis and Higher Education Task Force comprised of, among others, educators and college professors. By being the sport that promotes not only fitness and fun but also opportunity through education, we can attract many more people to tennis.
My final priority is to have fun! We have more fun and gain greater satisfaction when we do something well that we are proud of. And since we’re dedicated to the greatest sport in the world, our work should be fun!
All of us who have been involved in this great sport for a good part of our lives know well the bounty of benefits that go hand in hand with tennis. We need to make more people aware of those benefits. Because, when we share our sport, we in fact extend to others a universal key that opens doors, minds and hearts. And when we develop people through tennis, we inevitably promote and develop the growth of tennis itself.
Jon Vegosen started his two-year term as USTA president and chairman of the board this past January.