Tennis participation skyrockets throughout COVID-19 pandemic – USA TODAY

By the point the Australian Open hits the second week, it could be a giant 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. 
However it doesn’t at all times must be that manner. And if the American growth system someday regains its standing on the prime of males’s tennis, there’s cause to consider the seeds might have been planted throughout COVID-19.
The previous 12 months has been brutal in so some ways for sports activities participation, notably on the youth stage. However in line with 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 % after a number of years of stagnant participation. 
“It’s a few of the finest development numbers we’ve ever seen,” U.S. Tennis Affiliation CEO and govt director Mike Dowse mentioned 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 have been. It’s positively a silver lining to what was a difficult 12 months.”
In a way, there’s no actual shock that tennis stood to profit greater than different sports activities from COVID-19 as a result of it’s performed open air and doesn’t require folks 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, usually confirmed that staff sports activities and gym-based actions misplaced individuals 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 best charge 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 enjoying. Over the earlier decade, tennis had gained and misplaced roughly 4-5 million gamers virtually equally per 12 months. 
“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 Surveys, which compiles the information from a inhabitants consultant pattern of 18,000 folks. “Tennis has stayed very flat. This 12 months we had much more new and returning gamers and fewer dropping out. 
“It’s a sign folks have been discovering one thing to try this was protected, usually open air and get a little bit of train and tennis form of suits the invoice on these.”
Finally, no one is aware of for certain whether or not extra tennis participation will correlate with American gamers successful Grand Slams far off sooner or later. However on some stage, it’s basically a numbers sport.
Whereas tennis attracts a variety of younger ladies who occur to be high-level athletes, it has been harder during the last couple a long time for tennis to compete with different sports activities for boys who may need potential. Although that doesn’t fully 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 big 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 growth.
There’s excellent news on that entrance, too. Although the PAC survey simply contains prime line numbers in the intervening 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 % within the third quarter of 2020 in comparison with the identical time interval a 12 months earlier than. 
And anecdotally, tennis services and public parks have been jam-packed with gamers and children enrolling in youth applications who may need in any other case performed different sports activities.
“Now we have ready lists on lots of our applications now for the primary time, and even exterior of that the courts themselves are in nice demand,” mentioned Patti O’Reilly, the director of tennis at Blackburn Tennis Heart in suburban Atlanta. “Most 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 a variety 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 12 months and lots 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 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 “appeal to, interact and retain a brand new era of various tennis gamers,” Dowse mentioned. 
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 match construction to make it simpler to know and launched a brand new set of requirements for academics along side the 2 certifying organizations for tennis professionals. The concept is to interact and retain the brand new gamers whether or not they find yourself taking tennis severely or simply wish 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 street,” Blackman mentioned. “The chance once you have a look at 4 million new gamers coming into the sport final 12 months and the spike within the junior racquet gross sales, it tells a narrative of oldsters which can be seeing a worth proposition and wish to get their children 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 massive nation, a child picked up a tennis racquet for the primary time final 12 months which may have in any other case performed baseball or soccer due to COVID-19 and can ultimately flip into a professional. Perhaps even a champion. 
“If we’ve got 1,000,000 new children enjoying, there’s a significantly better likelihood of that taking place than if we solely have a number of hundred thousand gamers getting into the sport. That’s in the end how we could be most profitable,” Dowse mentioned.
“It’s a long-term course of however when you consider the variety of children that may have entered the game this 12 months it’s going to assist us down the street.”

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