The influx of American players 10 years of age and under in 2012 was facilitated in part by a groundbreaking change to the rules of tennis.
© Susan Mullane/Camerawork USA
During congressional office visits, the USTA sought change and growth for after-school tennis programming.
© Jennifer Pottheiser
Susie Wetherington (left) and Lynn Anderson of the East Metro Tennis Association.
© Lynn Anderson
By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
Over the last 12 months the sport of tennis has evolved, becoming a more inclusive, family-friendly pastime in the United States – from the very first day of the year to the December holiday season, the organization worked feverishly to reach more than 28 million players across the country in 2012. In this "Year in Review" spotlight, we highlight some of the goals achieved and future challenges discovered as the USTA continues its mission to promote and develop the growth of tennis.
New year, new ballgame
The game officially changed for kids on January 1, 2012, when the USTA and the International Tennis Federation adopted a rule change introducing 10 and Under Tennis as the official avenue of play for a new generation of American kids. As part of the largest youth initiative in USTA history, 10 and Under Tennis programming officially scaled the game to size for children at or younger than 10 years old, with some combination of shorter courts, slower-moving and lower-bouncing balls, and lighter and shorter racquets being adopted at all USTA- and ITF-sanctioned events for kids 10 and under.
With just the fifth-ever alteration of the rules of tennis, both the USTA and the ITF determined that the impact of the changes would help convince tennis communities – organizers, coaches and parents alike – that their game has a broader appeal and is ready compete with other youth sports organizations such as Little League Baseball.
"Scaling tennis to the size of children will promote greater participation and ensure that young kids will be able to play tennis much more quickly," said Kurt Kamperman, Chief Executive, Community Tennis, USTA.
The youth tennis movement continued to find legs as 2012 progressed. In fact, as part of the annual participation survey conducted for the USTA and the Tennis Industry Association (TIA) by Taylor Research and Consulting, the greatest increase in U.S. tennis participation of any demographic for the year was among youngsters ages 6-11, up 13 percent from 2011.
"This rule change to the competition format for kids 10 and under is critical to the long-term growth of our sport, and ultimately will help us develop new generations of world-class players," Kamperman said.
Advocacy Days: A capital trip for American tennis
The sport of tennis stepped outside the lines in 2012, past the gates of clubs and stadiums to the steps of Capitol Hill.
Approximately 100 members of the USTA Family, including members of the USTA and USTA Serves Board of Directors, the Advocacy and Public Affairs Committee, the Tennis and Higher Education Task Force and the NJTL network visited Washington, D.C., to stump during the organization’s inaugural "Advocacy Days," highlighting the work of the USTA in communities throughout the country.
Advocacy Days kicked off with an address by International Tennis Hall-of-Famer Billie Jean King at the National Press Club Speakers Luncheon, championing 10 and Under Tennis, the fight against childhood obesity and the learning of the game in public parks across the country. Since the 1960s, King has served as a tireless advocate for athletes of all backgrounds – gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic and, most recently, individuals suffering with arthritis – to participate in sports. As one of America’s highest-profile female sports figures, King served as a key figure in the formation of World TeamTennis, and the USTA’s National Tennis Center was renamed in her honor back in 2006.
"Part of the message that [King] and our whole organization are trying to get across is that we are, uniquely, a sport that can be played for the entirety of a lifetime," said Barry Ford, USTA Director of Public Affairs and Advocacy. "For far too long, the youth players have been underserved in America, which is why we’re bringing tennis to after-school programs and public parks. Billie Jean herself learned the game in the parks as a young girl and went on to have one of the greatest careers our sport has ever seen."
Notable attendees for King’s sold-out address included USTA Executive Director & Chief Operating Officer Gordon Smith, fellow ITF Hall-of-Famers Stan Smith and Pam Shriver, USTA Vice President Katrina Adams, USTA Director at Large Patrick J. Galbraith, Sen. John Breaux (D - Louisiana), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D - New York) and Rep. Norm Dicks (D - Washington).
The second day began with morning orientation for all volunteers in preparation of visiting more than 100 congressional offices during the day. From there, closed-door sessions on Capitol Hill with legislators served as an opportunity to educate elected officials and their staffs about the important benefits of active lifestyles through tennis. At midday, Congress formally announced the formation of the tennis caucus, the vehicle in which government and the USTA would work together to make an impact at the national and local levels through the support of various programs.
On the last day, the USTA contingent that remained in D.C. were invited to visit the grounds of the famed U.S. Department of Defense headquarters, The Pentagon. The purpose of the visit was to meet with various military officials and spread the word about USTA Military Outreach, whose efforts supported more than 100,000 U.S. Armed Forces active-duty members, veterans and their loved ones in its first year in 2011. The tour featured a special visit from Admiral James A. "Sandy" Winnefeld Jr., current vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and avid recreational tennis player.
"Most near and dear to my heart are the programs you provide for wounded warriors," Winnefeld said. "Athletics are such an important way for them to recover from the experiences they’ve been through."
Tireless CTA folks enjoy US Open, New York City
When Andy Murray defeated Novak Djokovic in the men's final, it was the conclusion of what was a wildly exciting 2012 US Open –-- not just for the players, but also for the fans that flocked to Flushing Meadows from all across the United States. For certain attendees, such as those who are actively involved with tennis year-round as part of a Community Tennis Association (CTA), the pilgrimage to the epicenter of American tennis provides a compass for aspirations and a chance to celebrate all that’s been achieved thus far.
Classified as "any incorporated, geographically defined, not-for-profit, volunteer-based organization that supports or provides programs which promote and develop the growth of tennis," the associations work primarily at the grass-roots level to coordinate and maintain tennis programs and services, guaranteeing that they are open and accessible to all. For CTAs, the US Open is not only a chance to take in a world-class Grand Slam tournament but also to spread the word about what progress is being made at the local level to preserve the game. More than 100 CTAs representing 14 of the 17 USTA sections across the country attended the 2012 US Open.
Upon their arrival onto the US Open grounds, CTA members were offered the opportunity of a behind the scenes tours of Arthur Ashe Stadium, where they were able to get an inside look at the inner workings of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The tours were highlighted by visits to the media center, main interview room, player dining, and player lounge.
Lynn Anderson was one such volunteer who made it to New York to take in the pageantry of the US Open. Anderson is actively involved with the East Metro Tennis Association (EMTA), a CTA offering USTA adult and junior leagues and tournaments in Rockdale, Newton and Walton counties in the state of Georgia. While on site, Anderson and fellow EMTA members witnessed three-time Open champion Kim Clijsters play in her final singles match, a three-set loss to upstart Laura Robson.
"Our mantra became: ‘It just can’t get much better than this,’ yet it did time and time again," said Anderson. "It was a day to remember and one that will be hard to beat."