By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
Recently, USTA.com had the chance to catch up with Chief Executive of Community Tennis Kurt Kamperman to discuss the recent ITF/USTA rule change that mandates all sanctioned tournaments for children under the age of 10 must be played using the appropriate QuickStart play formats, designed for kids 10 and Under. As head of Community Tennis, Kamperman believes that a new wave of youth tennis particpation due to these changes in play: With smaller courts, smaller equipment and lower bouncing balls, tennis can now be fully appreciated by the youngest of children and their parents.
Kamperman also touched on a wide variety of 2011 topics - such as the debut of the cross-country SmashZone Mobile Tour and the emerging partnerships with Nickelodeon and First Lady Michelle Obama - and looks forward to 2012 with the next big event of the Community Tennis calendar: The Community Tennis Development Workshop, January 13 through 15 in New Orleans, La.
Follow Kurt on Twitter: @usta_kurt. During the 2012 CTDW, you can tweet with us by using the hashtag #ctdw12 on Twitter.
USTA.com: As we begin 2012, what’s the "State of the USTA" regarding the 10 and Under Tennis Rule Change?
Kurt Kamperman: Well, we’re excited that the Rule Change is finally in effect. In passing the Rule Change 16 months ago in September 2010 – we gave ourselves the time to prepare for a multi-phased plan of attack. During that time we’ve built up infrastructure (courts), ramped up training and education and put forth some phenomenal marketing and promotional spots to help educate the public. No one could have predicted we’d have a public service announcement with First Lady Michelle Obama and the Story Time spot with Andre Agassi and Stefanie Graf. Not a bad line up of 10 and Under endorsers. While they debuted this past year, you’ll be seeing them circulated much more broadly in 2012 particularly on the Nickelodeon network, as we have a new partnership with Nick.
We now have over 5,000 permanent 36 and 60-foot courts in the U.S. We’re also very pleased with how the low-compression balls are catching on – the red, orange and green-colored balls are up almost 90% in sales in 2011 from 2010. We have 4,000-plus providers across the nation who are offering some sort of 10 and Under Tennis programming. 10andUnderTennis.com, the website we established alongside the Rule Change announcement, provides all the useful information organizers, coaches and parents need to introduce a new wave of kids into the game. So with all that prep work done we are ready to hit the ground running.
USTA.com: SmashZone Mobile debuted this past summer, trying to push 10 and Under during the Olympus US Open Series right on through to Queens and the US Open – like a true cross-country road trip. How important was getting SmashZone up and mobile this year in regards to where the organization wants to go with 10 and Under Tennis?
KK: …and we’ll be back in 2012 with nine months of touring the U.S. The SmashZone Mobile Tour gives kids and their parents a chance to experience first hand 10 and Under Tennis. Heading into this year, the idea is to continue to bring SmashZone to non-tennis events where young kids are – festivals, fairs, those environments where families congregate. SmashZone will start up again in late February and tour October. We’ll be visiting new and more diverse areas of the country.
USTA.com: The Presidents Active Lifestyle Awards (PALA) Challenge and "Let’s Move" fed into our participation at Worldwide Day of Play in Washington D.C. – the organization announced the team up with Michelle Obama back in February and established a working relationship to get kids active with tennis. The First Lady came to the US Open, followed by our participation in the festival in D.C. in September. How does this relationship with the First Lady rank up there for you and your time in the organization?
KK: The Worldwide Day of Play experience was great, especially being our first time there. To think about the footprint we made there – I mean, with SmashZone Mobile, our set-up was just as big as the NFL and the NBA’s, and we had over 25,000 kids and their families entertained from start to finish.
The opportunity for us to partner with First Lady Obama’s "Let’s Move!" initiative and then marry our NJTL program efforts with PALA has been monumental. Primarily through NJTL, more than 226,000 kids have participated in and completed the PALA Challenge – more than any other youth sports organization in the United States. In my mind, it’s the most exciting partnership we’ve had in the eight years that I have been here at the USTA.
Our relationship with the First Lady is huge. If you think about it, we had the single-most visible and popular "mom" on the planet endorse 10 and Under Tennis, and she then joined the most recognizable tennis parents, Andre and Stefanie, 30 combined Grand Slams between them, to speak positively about the changes in youth tennis. If you were starting from scratch and said: "I want to raise awareness for the health benefits of tennis and how 10 and Under Tennis is fun and keeps kids active," you couldn’t find three better people to provide an endorsement.
USTA.com: Let’s talk about the Community Tennis Development Workshop – speaking of D.C., you were there last year. What were some of the positives you took away from the conference?
KK: Our message at the 2011 CTDW was: "If you’re looking for ways to attract young people to your facilities and programs, 10 and Under Tennis is the future and could be an absolute boom for NJTLs, CTAs and Parks and Recreation departments that focus on kids." CTDW is always a platform for exchanging ideas and we get a great exchange of ideas from NJTLs and CTAs. The key in this coming year, especially in such a time of transition, is to really make sure that all these key providers have all the tools and resources they need to get the job done to attract and engage kids in 10 and Under Tennis.
USTA.com: Blended lines were a large talking point at last year’s CTDW event, and how courts and facilities were to be more family-friendly with the USTA’s financial aid. Now that we have a year under our belts, are tennis clubs indeed taking us up on our offer?
KK: Absolutely. As 2011 wrapped up, the count was around 3,600 courts that were painted with blended lines, with over a thousand facilities taking us up on our offer. We’ll continue this effort in 2012, but we may not be able to continue to give the same financial aid throughout the whole year so the early adopters will benefit the most because our dollars are finite.
We were happy that so many facilities were quick to line their courts and have us help, but now we’re finding that many are simply adopting blended lines on their own without the help of the USTA. It’s to their benefit to be as accommodating to players of all ages, to families, and a court with blended lines opens up many more play possibilities.
USTA.com: 2012, we’re in New Orleans. It’s only been a handful of years since Hurricane Katrina and the devastation and clean-up that came with it, and in turn, USTA staffers are offering to roll up their sleeves and take on some rebuilding once the conference is over with "Day of Service." Viewed alongside the with the supplies and recreation the USTA offered Joplin after the Missouri tornado and endeavors like Court 3K, are you satisfied with how the organization is helping communities?
KK: We always try to seize opportunities to impact people and communities through tennis. With SmashZone Mobile on the road, we saw the devastation with Joplin and said: "Wow, we could take a couple of days out of our tour and gives these kids a chance to forget about what they’ve been through." Even if just for an afternoon, tennis can go a long way in helping turn any environment into a fun place.
Court 3K, and the celebration we had in Atlanta, is another example of how to make tennis a celebration of community. Our Facilities department under Virgil Christian established an aggressive goal, believing in the power of 10 and Under Tennis. Atlanta is a community with a lot of different entities coming together to make things happen for young kids, represented by NJTLs, Boys & Girls Clubs, church groups, etc. It’s a city where tennis is part of the fabric of the community and the kids who play tennis there come from all walks of life.
Thinking back to the summer of 2005, the USTA earmarked $1,000,000 to help rebuild tennis facilities throughout New Orleans and the whole Gulf Coast after the disaster – obviously Katrina was the worst of the hurricanes, but it was a terrible hurricane season overall. I remember we went into New Orleans just after New Year’s 2006 and surveyed the area, talking with people and listening to their thoughts – it was very similar to what we heard this year in Joplin in that they just wanted to get back to normalcy. Sure there were bigger problems than demolished tennis courts, but with spring and summer on the way people were yearning to return to their routines – and for many, tennis was a huge part of their lives. We were able to help return tennis to their lives that summer not only because of the financial donation and by providing technical expertise, but more importantly through the tireless work of USTA Southern staffers and volunteers.
USTA.com: It’s not a simple as saying: "Can we do more," because in no way should what we’ve been discussing be discounted - 2011 was a superlative year in Community Tennis. Still, if you were to think critically about what the USTA is trying to do for communities and how the organization can improve service, what would be something you’d like to see?
KK: Our 2012 CTDW theme is: "Fewer. Bigger. Better." The USTA is blessed with a lot of resources, both people and financial, but we’re at the point where we need to discipline ourselves as an organization and focus our resources on the things that will have the biggest impact on our mission.
The message we’ll be providing to the CTDW audience is: "Now is the time to seize the opportunity to grow 10 and Under Tennis. We’re not saying to forget about adults, teens, etc., but make sure you don’t miss this opportunity. Focus on the areas that will bring the biggest impact and do them to the best of your ability. We need to make 10 and Under Tennis better. We have a lot of people participating, but not fully – for instance a club may introduce blended lines on its courts, but not establish 10 and Under tournaments, or have their coaches properly trained. The 10 and Under Tennis effort lacks impact when it’s not done right. We need providers to immerse themselves in 10 and Under Tennis, not just do it part of the way.
USTA.com: CTDW is also based around the Martin Luther King. Jr. holiday, and you’ve added a Day of Service to the event. What does Dr. King’s message mean to you?
KK: Martin Luther King stood for a lot of great things, but one of my favorite quotes of his is "Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be." When I think of this quote and then look at our USTA President, Jon Vegosen’s theme of "Tennis; The Sport of Opportunity", and the Day of Service we are adding on to the CTDW, it feels to me that we are starting to get it – and that’s a good thing.