Tennis participation skyrockets throughout COVID-19 pandemic – USA TODAY

By the point the Australian Open hits the second week, it might be an enormous upset if there are any American males left to compete with the likes of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. Practically 20 years after Andy Roddick’s U.S. Open win, our nation’s Grand Slam drought has turn out to be such a brand new regular that it barely even registers as a narrative anymore. 
Nevertheless it doesn’t all the time need to be that manner. And if the American growth system someday regains its standing on the high of males’s tennis, there’s purpose to imagine the seeds could have been planted throughout COVID-19.
The previous yr has been brutal in so some ways for sports activities participation, notably on the youth degree. However in accordance with an annual research commissioned by the Bodily Exercise Council (PAC) and shared with USA TODAY Sports activities, tennis has boomed through the pandemic with an estimated 21.64 million Individuals selecting up a racquet in 2020, up 22.4 p.c after a number of years of stagnant participation. 
“It’s a few of the greatest progress numbers we’ve ever seen,” U.S. Tennis Affiliation CEO and government director Mike Dowse stated in a telephone interview. “We knew it was coming, however I don’t know if we anticipated the numbers to be as highly effective as they had been. It’s undoubtedly a silver lining to what was a difficult yr.”
In a way, there’s no actual shock that tennis stood to learn greater than different sports activities from COVID-19 as a result of it’s performed outside and doesn’t require folks to be inside six toes of one another.
The PAC survey, which is a three way partnership of amongst a number of nationwide sport governing our bodies, typically confirmed that group sports activities and gym-based actions misplaced contributors in 2020 whereas extra folks gravitated towards particular person actions and issues like tenting and climbing.
Tennis stands out as a result of it had the very best charge of progress among the many so-called conventional sports activities with 6.78 million new or returning gamers and simply 2.82 million who stopped taking part in. Over the earlier decade, tennis had gained and misplaced roughly 4-5 million gamers virtually equally per yr. 
“Some sports activities have greater churn charges than others, and we monitor that,” stated Keith Storey, who leads the U.S. workplace of Sports activities Advertising Surveys, which compiles the information from a inhabitants consultant pattern of 18,000 folks. “Tennis has stayed very flat. This yr we had much more new and returning gamers and fewer dropping out. 
“It’s a sign folks had been discovering one thing to try this was protected, typically outside and get a little bit of train and tennis kind of suits the invoice on these.”
In the end, no one is aware of for positive whether or not extra tennis participation will correlate with American gamers profitable Grand Slams far off sooner or later. However on some degree, it’s essentially a numbers recreation.
Whereas tennis attracts plenty of younger ladies who occur to be high-level athletes, it has been tougher over the past couple many years for tennis to compete with different sports activities for boys who might need potential. Although that doesn’t utterly clarify why America hasn’t churned out one other Pete Sampras or Andre Agassi, a lot much less one other Roddick, creating a much bigger pool of gamers on the grassroots degree is a big step towards fixing the issue.
“We’d like extra, higher athletes coming into the game between the ages of 6 and 10,” stated Martin Blackman, the USTA’s common supervisor of participant growth.
There’s excellent news on that entrance, too. Although the PAC survey simply consists of high line numbers in the intervening time and doesn’t have participation damaged down by age, one other set of numbers from the Tennis Business Affiliation reported that youth racquet shipments elevated 41 p.c within the third quarter of 2020 in comparison with the identical time interval a yr earlier than. 
And anecdotally, tennis services and public parks have been jam-packed with gamers and children enrolling in youth applications who might need in any other case performed different sports activities.
“We have now ready lists on a lot of our applications now for the primary time, and even exterior of that the courts themselves are in nice demand,” stated Patti O’Reilly, the director of tennis at Blackburn Tennis Middle in suburban Atlanta. “Lots of the mother and father are saying they need the children to be exterior, they want them to be out exercising and tennis is a wholesome venue to try this.
“I believe we’ve launched plenty of kids and adults to tennis who may not have participated within the sport. Now our job is to assist them fall in love with it.”
It’s a possibility the USTA cannot afford to squander. 
When COVID first hit final yr and plenty of services had been shutting down, the USTA minimize $20 million from its funds — a few of which was in movement earlier than the pandemic — however dedicated to $50 million in spending to increase its grassroots applications and supply grants to maintain coaches and services afloat throughout a time the place they weren’t bringing in any income. 
Now the USTA has moved onto the rebuilding section to “entice, have interaction and retain a brand new technology of numerous tennis gamers,” Dowse stated. 
To do this, the USTA has modified its Web platform to make it simpler to match up new gamers with applications and coaches of their space, reconstructed and streamlined its junior event construction to make it simpler to know and launched a brand new set of requirements for lecturers together with the 2 certifying organizations for tennis execs. The concept is to interact and retain the brand new gamers whether or not they find yourself taking tennis significantly or simply need to play for recreation. 
“We’re pulling these three levers on the similar time, which is admittedly encouraging and we’ll see the fruit of that 3-to-5 years down the street,” Blackman stated. “The chance while you take a look at 4 million new gamers coming into the sport final yr and the spike within the junior racquet gross sales, it tells a narrative of fogeys which are seeing a price proposition and need to get their children on the court docket. So I believe the door is huge open.”
Within the meantime, it might be awhile earlier than the following American man wins a Grand Slam. However someplace on the market on this huge nation, a child picked up a tennis racquet for the primary time final yr that may have in any other case performed baseball or soccer due to COVID-19 and can finally flip into a professional. Possibly even a champion. 
“If we’ve one million new children taking part in, there’s a a lot better probability of that occuring than if we solely have just a few hundred thousand gamers getting into the sport. That’s finally how we might be most profitable,” Dowse stated.
“It’s a long-term course of however for those who consider the variety of children that may have entered the game this yr it’s going to assist us down the street.”


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