Tennis participation skyrockets throughout COVID-19 pandemic – USA TODAY

By the point the Australian Open hits the second week, it could be an enormous upset if there are any American males left to compete with the likes of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. Almost twenty years after Andy Roddick’s U.S. Open win, our nation’s Grand Slam drought has turn into such a brand new regular that it barely even registers as a narrative anymore. 
However it doesn’t all the time need to be that method. And if the American improvement system in the future regains its standing on the high of males’s tennis, there’s purpose to consider the seeds could have been planted throughout COVID-19.
The previous yr has been brutal in so some ways for sports activities participation, significantly on the youth stage. However based on an annual research commissioned by the Bodily Exercise Council (PAC) and shared with USA TODAY Sports activities, tennis has boomed in the course of 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 number of the finest development numbers we’ve ever seen,” U.S. Tennis Affiliation CEO and govt director Mike Dowse mentioned in a cellphone interview. “We knew it was coming, however I don’t know if we anticipated the numbers to be as highly effective as they have been. It’s positively 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 individuals to be inside six ft 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 workforce sports activities and gym-based actions misplaced contributors in 2020 whereas extra individuals gravitated towards particular person actions and issues like tenting and mountaineering.
Tennis stands out as a result of it had the very best fee of development 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 nearly equally per yr. 
“Some sports activities have larger churn charges than others, and we monitor that,” mentioned Keith Storey, who leads the U.S. workplace of Sports activities Advertising and marketing Surveys, which compiles the info from a inhabitants consultant pattern of 18,000 individuals. “Tennis has stayed very flat. This yr we had much more new and returning gamers and fewer dropping out. 
“It’s a sign individuals have been discovering one thing to try this was protected, typically outside and get a little bit of train and tennis type of matches the invoice on these.”
In the end, no one is aware of for certain whether or not extra tennis participation will correlate with American gamers profitable Grand Slams far off sooner or later. However on some stage, it’s basically a numbers sport.
Whereas tennis attracts quite a lot of younger women who occur to be high-level athletes, it has been harder during the last 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 stage is a large step towards fixing the issue.
“We want extra, higher athletes coming into the game between the ages of 6 and 10,” mentioned Martin Blackman, the USTA’s common supervisor of participant improvement.
There’s excellent news on that entrance, too. Although the PAC survey simply consists of high line numbers in the mean time and doesn’t have participation damaged down by age, one other set of numbers from the Tennis Trade 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 packages who might need in any other case performed different sports activities.
“We have now ready lists on lots of our packages now for the primary time, and even outdoors of that the courts themselves are in nice demand,” mentioned Patti O’Reilly, the director of tennis at Blackburn Tennis Heart in suburban Atlanta. “Lots of the dad and mom are saying they need the youngsters to be outdoors, they want them to be out exercising and tennis is a wholesome venue to try this.
“I believe we’ve launched quite a lot of kids and adults to tennis who won’t 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 have been shutting down, the USTA lower $20 million from its funds — a few of which was in movement earlier than the pandemic — however dedicated to $50 million in spending to develop its grassroots packages 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 part to “appeal to, interact and retain a brand new era of numerous tennis gamers,” Dowse mentioned. 
To do this, the USTA has modified its Web platform to make it simpler to match up new gamers with packages and coaches of their space, reconstructed and streamlined its junior event construction to make it simpler to grasp and launched a brand new set of requirements for academics along side 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 critically or simply need to play for recreation. 
“We’re pulling these three levers on the identical time, which is basically encouraging and we’ll see the fruit of that 3-to-5 years down the highway,” Blackman mentioned. “The chance while you have 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 worth proposition and need to get their youngsters on the court docket. So I believe the door is broad open.”
Within the meantime, it could 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 which 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 have now 1,000,000 new youngsters taking part in, there’s a significantly better likelihood of that occuring than if we solely have a number of hundred thousand gamers coming into the sport. That’s in the end how we will be most profitable,” Dowse mentioned.
“It’s a long-term course of however in case you consider the variety of youngsters that might have entered the game this yr it’s going to assist us down the highway.”

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