Executive Point: Craig Morris
The USTA’s general manager of Community Tennis & Youth Tennis talks about growing the sport, focusing on the customer and maintaining a passion for tennis.
Last November, the USTA hired Craig Morris as general manager of Community Tennis and Youth Tennis. Morris, who reports to Kurt Kamperman, USTA chief executive of Community Tennis and USTA National Campus, comes to the organization after many years with Tennis Australia, most recently as its director of participation. Based out of the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla., Morris will oversee the day-to-day operations of all areas of Community Tennis and Youth Tennis, including Tennis on Campus, Adult Tennis and more. Tennis Industry recently caught up with Morris for a few questions and answers.
Tell us about your new role. What drew you to this job?
My role includes overseeing the development and implementation of all community tennis, with an emphasis on youth, which is critical to growing the sport. To make tennis accessible and get more people playing the game, we need to invest in both youth and adult tennis.
As to what drew me to the job, it was really the opportunity to take my learnings from Australia and bring them to the U.S., adapting and modifying what I learned there to establish that same growth here. The health of tennis internationally is heavily influenced by the health of tennis in the U.S. Being a passionate tennis person, I want to see tennis thrive in the U.S. and, ultimately, internationally. The U.S. market is key to that success.
What are your top priorities?
One major focus is the youth market. There has been great work the last several years with the introduction of 10 and Under Tennis. Ultimately, we want to sell tennis to American families, particularly with young kids, and get them involved in the sport in a way they haven’t before. The priority is to align all of our efforts and connect the dots to focus on the consumer.
You had great success in Australia bringing kids into the game. What strategies will you use to increase junior participation in the U.S.?
We had a junior program called Hot Shots that was a tremendous success, with more than 10 percent of the Australian population ages 5 to 12 registered in tennis programs. The strategies I am looking to bring to the U.S. are customer-focused. We need to make the sport easily accessible for American families.
In Australia, we used a strategy of having one brand that was designed to inspire kids and parents. Through that strategy, we developed one go-to destination (website) where we were able to connect families to their local providers. It was a big part of the success — Australian families knew exactly where to go when they wanted to get their kids into tennis.
Increasing participation will be a lot around accessibility, branding, encouraging healthy and active lifestyles to combat childhood obesity, and making sure people know how to get into tennis.
Health and fitness were major components in driving increased tennis participation in Australia. What are your plans in this area?
With the growth of the health and fitness industry, Tennis Australia utilized Cardio Tennis to get people into the sport. With Cardio Tennis initiated here in the U.S., we will be working through strategies on how we use Cardio Tennis and link that into the ecosystem of all our products to send the message that tennis is great for health and fitness.
Will you have a role in coaching education?
I will be working alongside Scott Schultz, managing director of USTA University, within USTA’s role in coaching education. I look forward to working with both the USPTA and PTR around the role that coaches play in getting more people to play tennis more often. Coaches are often the sales force of the sport — not only delivering lessons but also running facilities, delivering tournaments and leagues, etc. It is critically important that we support coaches in what they are doing across the industry.
There have been a number of initiatives to engage younger adults in tennis. What are your thoughts here?
Getting young adults back into the sport is critical for growth. The under-40 market, not only as young adults but also as young parents, is vital for us, so we can get and retain them in the sport, as well as motivate them to get their kids into the game. I have been very impressed with the social leagues, which have been driven by the USTA Sections and different organizations. How we brand and message that to the entire under-40 market is currently being worked on — it is a critically important audience.
You’ve been on the job for several months now. What’s impressed you most so far?
I’ve been impressed with the enthusiasm of both the national and Section staffs, key stakeholders and the passion of the entire tennis industry to ensure the sport flourishes. There is enormous opportunity, and that’s been motivating for me. We have an amazing product that will become more appealing to American families. If we come together as an industry and move in one direction, then consumers — current and future players — will understand where tennis is and how to access it, and hear our fantastic message.
The passion has been overwhelming. I look forward to the next several years playing my part in supporting the industry and growing tennis in the U.S.
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