The sport of tennis is growing at a rate that would surprise even the most vocal enthusiasts of the game. According to an annual participation survey conducted for the United States Tennis Associaton and the Tennis Industry Association by Taylor Research and Consulting, tennis participation overall grew 4 percent in 2012. For the first time since 2009, there are more than 28 million players in the U.S. I'm one of them and, in addition, I can claim my fair share of that increase in youngsters ages 6 to 11 resulting from my very own group tennis programs held in Gloucester Township throughout the year.
Perhaps most impressive from the study is the 13 percent increase in participation in this 6-to-11 age group from just one year ago. The data also showed African-American and Hispanic participation levels in the sport have sharply increased, with the former reflecting a 10-year high and the latter showing its third-highest level in the past decade.
The data was gathered in a phone-conducted survey which included more than 7,500 U.S. residents and claims the top spot for largest group ever surveyed in sport.
"We are very gratified that our efforts geared to young players are paying off," said Jon Vegosen, USTA chairman of the board and president. "We want to grow the game and make it look like America, and therefore we find it very encouraging that we are seeing growth among young players and in diverse communities."
On a personal note, I have seen some of this growth reflected in the numbers of students attending my group lesson programs. But I believe now more than ever that a much greater number of kids would benefit from participation in this sport of a lifetime if only more parents would give it a try. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the concept that, since tennis is not the same kind of team sport that kids have come to experience in the past, it cannot be as much fun. I can tell you that, from decades of personal interaction with kids on a court, enjoyment is one of our primary goals. My three rules of the court are: Be safe, because without safety, nothing else matters; have fun, because without fun, there will always be better things to do; and learn a new skill, because the better you get at something, the more you enjoy it.
As we move into 2013, and we begin the year of the ATP Tour tennis calendar with the Australian Open—a tournament that in 2012 witnessed an almost 6-hour battle between the world's Nos. 1 and 2 players—may we provide our children the chance to participate in and enjoy an alternate and low-barrier-to-entry sport in which the whole family can enjoy together!
(Editor's Note: Statistical information and quotations were taken from an article written by E.J. Crawford, of USTA.com.)
Ron Miller is a PTR certified tennis instructor who teaches group and private lessons for kids and adults through Gloucester Township Recreation in the SJ area. His website and podcast (in iTunes) provide free instructional content for beginners to advanced players.