Courts: Senior Status
A lot has been said about courts for children. But what about for players at the other end of the spectrum?
The fact that the baby-boomer population is aging shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, and neither should the fact that those people want to continue playing tennis. Tennis has long been promoted as a lifetime sport, so much so that USTA tournament play even includes age divisions up to 90!
According to statistics compiled by the Tennis Industry Association, the 50-plus age group generally numbers between 3 and 4 million players, and is consistently one of the largest in the “frequent player” population. With so many players obviously wanting to stay in the game, the question becomes: What can you do to make sure they keep coming back?
Make sure the court surface is comfortable to play on, say the experts. Many builders promote soft granular surfaces like clay or fast-dry, saying seniors find them more comfortable to play on. The slower pace of such surfaces also lends itself to a strategy game, and allows players to enjoy being on the court longer.
Soft courts (which also include natural grass and synthetic turf) find favor among a wide range of players because they are easier on joints, backs, feet and legs. Surfaces that allow players to slide place less stress on joints when a player stops or turns. Grass, fast-dry and clay also stay cooler in the summer and have little glare. Synthetic turf does tend to hold heat.
Fast-dry and grass courts do require more daily maintenance than a hard court. Synthetic turf will also require periodic brushing and cleaning, so managers must weigh their ability to put in the time to keep courts looking and playing their best. If a hard court is being used, cushioned coatings can help make players comfortable. In addition, coatings can be formulated to grip the ball and slow it down.
Welcoming for Seniors
Outside of the court surface, though, there are plenty of other things to make tennis facilities more welcoming to senior players.
- Court furniture: Many senior players enjoy the social aspect of tennis. For them, the “tennis garden” atmosphere will appeal. This is a space between or next to the courts with shaded benches or chairs and tables and other furniture, allowing players to sit in comfort, and talk or watch other matches in progress. A small refrigerator for bottled water is a nice amenity, as is a wastepaper basket so that no debris winds up on the court. Small lockers for keys, phones, etc. are always nice.
- Vision: As we age, we all need more and better lighting. Replacing damaged or burned-out lamps is necessary, and will improve the quality of the game for all players, not just seniors. Something that can also help is making sure windscreens are well-placed in order to provide adequate contrast to help players see the ball clearly. The court surface color should likewise provide good contrast without being unnecessarily distracting. A court builder can provide more information on color combinations that work well in various settings.
- Accessibility: Many individuals who have had to discontinue their game, either temporarily or permanently because of injury, arthritis, joint replacement surgery, etc., may enjoy visiting with friends at the court. Make sure all paths leading to the court comply with ADA rules concerning width, slope and so forth, and that any gates they will have to pass through are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, walker or crutches. Rest rooms should also be conveniently located, and fully accessible.
- Welcoming atmosphere: Try to encourage a philosophy of “It’s never too late to try tennis.” Have a clinic for beginners, and promote the fun, social aspect of the game, and the ability to keep fit and stay mentally sharp. Starting seniors on 36-foot or 60-foot courts with the same low-compression balls used for the younger set is a great way to bring them in and get them moving around and having fun.
While it’s never too early to get the next generation started in this lifetime sport, it’s never too late to accommodate the older generation.
See all articles by Mary Helen Sprecher
About the Author
Mary Helen Sprecher is the managing editor of Sports Destinations Management Magazine, a niche business-to-business publication for planners of sports travel events, in addition to being an RSI Contributing Editor. She is the technical writer for the American Sports Builders Association and works as a newspaper reporter in Baltimore City.