Your Serve: 2020 Vision
Reaching 10 million frequent players will be a boon to tennis. But how do we get there in seven years?
By Kevin Theos
“10 million frequent players by 2020” — that’s the stated goal of the Tennis Industry Association, and it would just about double the number of frequent players we now have.
Increasing the number of frequent tennis players, who play at least 21 times a year, is wise. Frequent players engage in more play occasions and collectively spend far more on equipment, apparel, lessons, court fees and other tennis expenses than those who play less often. The question is, how do we increase frequent players? Here are some suggestions.
We need PlayTennis.com to be successful. The centerpiece of the TIA’s efforts to increase frequent players is PlayTennis.com, which links individuals with facilities, programs, partners and other providers in their areas. PlayTennis.com could bring lots of new players into tennis, and increase the number of frequent players, but its effectiveness depends on how aware the non-tennis playing public is of the website. The TIA, USTA and industry partners must initiate a full-scale promotion of PlayTennis.com.
We need to increase participation in programs. Competitive and recreational programs facilitate frequent participation by providing players with consistent days and times when they know they will be able to play. Both within and outside the USTA, countless programs depend on volunteer leaders. Actively educating people about volunteer opportunities and encouraging them to occupy those specific volunteer roles necessary for many programs to operate and grow is imperative if we are to make our programs as populous as they can be.
We also need to realize that much tennis play occurs outside of programs, and that many communities have no organized programs. If every USTA member were both involved in a program and a frequent player, which is hardly the case, USTA members would still make up less than 15% of the frequent players in the U.S. So how do we inspire play outside of programs?
It used to be far more common than it is now, but there are still courts where people show up after work or on the weekends to play tennis with others who happen to be there. It may seem nostalgic to think we could once again have many more courts where people simply come out to play unscheduled singles and doubles matches, or to just hit with others. But if community tennis associations would send greeters/players to public tennis courts and advertise “just show up and play tennis” days, we could resurrect some of the venues we have lost over the years.
Getting players out to the courts is one thing; the bigger challenge is getting them to come back on a consistent basis. Individuals have a vast array of recreational options and are more demanding than ever of instant gratification. To effectively compete with recreational alternatives, tennis needs to make it easier for beginners to rally. People who spend too much time picking up tennis balls and not enough time playing are unlikely to become avid players. Promoting the use of Red, Orange and Green balls is crucial. Low-compression balls enable players of modest skill, at any age, to quickly sustain rallies. This is where the fun is. This is where tennis either “clicks” for players and they decide to come back, or they decide tennis is not for them. The ball can make all the difference. Tennis must interest people swiftly if it is going to stand a chance at having them fall for the sport.
Our ultimate success in attaining 10 million frequent players by 2020 depends both on introducing many more people to tennis and helping them to become infatuated with the sport quickly. We have seven years to reach our goal — let’s make it happen.
Kevin Theos is the USTA Southern Tennis Service Representative for Alabama. He serves on the USPTA Southern Division executive committee and is the former executive director of the Birmingham Area Tennis Association.
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About the Author
Kevin Theos is the USTA Southern Tennis Service Representative for Alabama. He serves on the USPTA Southern Division executive committee and is the former executive director of the Birmingham Area Tennis Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.