Larry is a USPTA, PTR pro, and long-time USTA volunteer. He is the only person to have been President of two USTA Sections and four Districts. His accomplishments have been recognized by the USPTA, PTR, USTA, and TIA. He has worked in just about every area of tennis.
Larry has coached all skill levels from red ball to touring professionals. His experience owning a club, running a foundation, working at a member-owned club, and running a public facility has given him the experience for his tennis articles and presentations. He is President of Larry’s Racquet.
DAVID AND GOLIATH
By Larry Haugness
According to the Tennis Industry Association (TIA) and USTA figures in 2010 overall tennis participation increased to 30.1 million players. Now according to the TIA’s study shows that for most of this decade tennis participation has been in decline. From 2018 to 2019 tennis participation declined by .9% to 17.68 million total. Those percentages don’t sound like much but according to the TIA participation report that translates to “4.95 million of the 2018 players did not play in 2019”. Let’s put that into perspective. We lost the equivalent of the population of Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Delaware COMBINED!
During the recent pandemic, tennis participation showed an incredible increase in play. Most likely due to the natural social distancing of tennis. As there were few USTA programs and events hosted, this was organic grassroots growth.
Pickleball started in 1965 and continued to grow slowly until 2015 when it had about 930,000 players. Three years later participation increased to over 3.3 million players.
The popularity of pickleball has resulted in the USTA officially recognizing pickleball around 2018 while both the USPTA and PTR offered pickleball teaching certification in 2019 and 2018 respectively.
Could tennis take a page from the successful pickleball playbook? Pickleball has ambassadors to grow their game. Ambassadors are volunteer representatives and unofficial spokespersons for USA Pickleball in the geographical area they represent and/or at large. Their primary responsibility is to promote and grow the sport of pickleball. According to their 2019 tax filings, their income and expenses were $1.8 million.
According to the 2019 tax filings, the USTA Operating Revenue was $484,967,000 with Expenses of $494,186,000. Direct support from USTA national to their 17 sections last year was a shade over $52 million dollars.
Could tennis use a similar ambassador program? Could the USTA afford to hire experienced teaching professionals to go out and grow the game?
The USTA seems to promote their programs before promoting tennis. They could start a huge advertising campaign to explain and advertise the benefits of being a tennis player. For example, that tennis develops numerous life-building skills and the recent findings on the health benefits that tennis players living longer. Tennis promotes family values by playing together. Their support could also be to promote both teaching organizations. This would include the benefits of taking lessons from certified professionals and having racquets strung by certified stringers. It’s about people, not programs.
They could also expand their support to other sports that have tennis-based skills like table tennis and touchtennis as these have been shown to be a good transition into tennis.
In 2021 the USTA added four pickleball courts and four padel courts in Lake Nona, the home of US tennis. They could also provide areas for table tennis and modify some courts for touchtennis.
The USTA needs to understand and accept the fact that the transition equipment is not just for kids 10 & under as originally presented but is actually skill-based. This translates to a beginner is a beginner at any age, as well as an intermediate is an intermediate at any age. Also, as we age and slow down, using transition equipment will allow players to still enjoy the game they love. I know of a 72-year-old man that has had several major surgeries with mobility issues that is using the green ball and a 26” junior graphite racquet. Yes, and loving the game!
Other countries have been using transition equipment in adult programming for years. When 36-60 came out in 2007 I saw online an Adult Program in France using the orange and green ball! Would seniors still be playing tennis instead of pickleball if they were introduced to the magic of the green ball? The USTA should endorse, advertise, and push transition equipment. Encourage the manufactures to change their placards on racquets and balls away from the kids’ recommendations to skill-based. I feel it is their responsibility as the governing body of tennis to help educate everyone about the benefits of transition equipment. To their credit, they have included items in the Friend at Court allowing sanctioned events using this equipment. I know several sections are now using and promoting their use. It just needs to be a major push from USTA National.
The USPTA and PTR as the delivery systems need to get on board as an organization and encourage their members to start using transition equipment as a skill-based aid. They could offer a specialized certification or workshops as a Transition Equipment Specialist.
Will Goliath ever get up?
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