By E.J. Crawford
The USTA is making it easier than ever before for kids to get involved in tennis, breaking down the barriers to draw more young players and their families to the sport through its revolutionary 10 and Under Tennis initiative. 10 and Under Tennis is the largest youth initiative in USTA history. It follows the model of other sports such as soccer and baseball by scaling the sport to size for its youngest players. That means shorter courts, slower-moving and lower-bouncing balls, and lighter and shorter racquets.
And now, getting started is easier than ever before with the USTA’s free first-year junior membership offer for kids 10 and under. The offer, exclusive to first-time members 10 and under and running through the end of the year, provides the opportunity for more kids to enroll in more programs in more places, all while delivering them the tennis news, gear and guides that help turn first-time participants into lifelong players and fans.
“10 and Under Tennis provides the opportunity for thousands of kids to have more success and more fun learning and playing the game,” says Kurt Kamperman, Chief Executive, Community Tennis, USTA. “And our first-year free membership offer will help fuel that growth by allowing more kids to participate in USTA programs and events. Making the game easier to learn and play also allows us to bring tennis to new and diverse audiences. With this approach, we hope tennis will become the newest ‘pick-up’ sport, and we expect to see more and more kids playing the game.”
For many programs, the influx has already begun. At the Western Racquet Club in Elm Grove, Wis., the number of juniors registered in programs has seen a significant bump since the introduction of the first-year free membership offer, resulting in a new group of kids that can grow up with tennis.
“Waiving the membership fee for the 10-and-under program has had a huge impact on the numbers for our first 8- and 10-and-under tournaments in June—and the turnout for our July events is trending even higher,” says Timon J. Corwin, Managing Director of Tennis Operations for the Western Racquet Club and the Moorland Park Tennis Center. “Making it easy for the new players and their parents to [get started] is absolutely the way to go.”
The early results for the junior membership offer have indeed been promising, with more than 10,000 new members added in the first three months alone. And that is just one part of the puzzle In addition, 10 and Under Tennis courts (60 feet for ages 9-10, 36 feet for ages 8 and under) and courts with blended lines (lines for 10 and Under Tennis painted on top of the traditional 78-foot court) are popping up around the country—more than 1,100 were added in the first half of 2011, with a projection of 3,000 by year’s end—and more tennis clubs, programs and other providers are incorporating 10 and Under Tennis into their programming. That translates to more kids involved in the sport at a younger age, which leads to an increase in the number of people involved in tennis down the road.
“We’re fundamentally changing the sport of tennis—the way it’s taught and the way it’s played,” says Scott Schultz, Managing Director, Youth Tennis, USTA. “The USTA has worked diligently in conjunction with all its partners to make it easier than ever to play the game. So whether you’re just getting started, want to play for fun or have designs on playing collegiate or professional tennis, 10 and Under Tennis has a program for you.”
The first-year free membership offer for juniors is just the latest in a series of creative measures undertaken by the USTA get more kids playing—and loving—tennis. In addition, the USTA will invest $1.3 million over a three-year period in 26 local markets around the country, from Amarillo, Texas, to Yonkers, N.Y., and from Portland, Ore., to Seminole County, Fla. Over the course of the three years, each of the communities will receive $50,000 in matching grants from the USTA to build new courts and/or adapt current courts for 10 and Under Tennis, to provide equipment for schools and other programs, to market programs to parents, and to make sure that local clubs, facilities and teaching pros know the best techniques and plans to pass their love of the game on to tennis’ youngest generation. The goal is to add 25 additional local markets in 2012 and to expand the local investments to more than 100 markets over the next five years.
“10 and Under Tennis has made a significant impact on our community,” says Mike Woody, Executive Director of the Midland Community Tennis Center in Midland, Mich., one of the initial local investment communities. “It has increased our programming and the number of new people coming to our facility. That has meant more money, better business and more kids playing tennis. I would recommend it to anyone out there who’s interested.”
To make sure that tennis is fun first and foremost, the USTA took the US Open’s primary interactive showcase for kids, SmashZone, on the road. The SmashZone Mobile Tour made its way around the country this spring and summer, setting up at events as varied as the San Mateo Country Fair and the Atlanta Jazz Festival in addition to a stop in tornado-devastated Joplin, Mo.
“Taking one of the premiere attractions of the US Open on the road to showcase our 10 and Under Tennis initiative allows us to reach audiences that might not have ever experienced tennis before,” says Jon Vegosen, Chairman of the Board and President, USTA. “To be able to get more racquets in kids’ hands at a young age, and to share with them the idea that tennis can be played anywhere from schoolyards to parks to clubs and even at home underscores the fact that tennis truly is the sport of opportunity.”
Opportunity abounds as well through the Home Court Championship Sweepstakes. By going to 10andUnderTennis.com and submitting your name and e-mail address, you can have a chance to win one of the daily tennis kits—comprised of 10 and Under Tennis racquets and balls—being awarded through September 15 and a shot at the grand prize—accommodations and tickets for four to the 2012 US Open.
The first-year free membership offer for juniors also opens up the possibility of competing in the USTA’s newly revamped tournaments for those 10 and under. Thanks to a rule change passed last year by the USTA and backed by the International Tennis Federation, starting January 1, 2012, all USTA-sanctioned tournament play for those 10 and under must utilize the components of 10 and Under Tennis. To complement that change, the USTA is working to overhaul its tournament structure to emphasize participation and de-emphasize competition. The result will be a more laid back, fun environment that features multiple play opportunities and develops skills and a love of the game.
To further that end, the USTA is working with its local partners and grass-roots organizers to expand such fun, non-competitive participatory events as Play Days, Tennis Festivals and USTA Kids Tennis Clubs to attract kids to the sport—and to keep them playing into high school and beyond.
“Above all, kids want to have fun,” says Kirk Anderson, Director, Coach Training and Education, USTA. “They want to play with friends, have success and enjoy the activity they’re participating in. That’s why 10 and Under Tennis is such a hit—it incorporates all these elements.”
Beyond tournament competition, USTA membership also gives kids access to Jr. Team Tennis, the popular, fun, team-based way to compete with friends and improve tennis skills. And tennis providers and organizers across the country will be hosting after-school and back-to-school programs for kids this fall, in addition to the wealth of programming already offered by thousands of local park and recreation agencies. Throw in the growth of at-home tennis kits and pop-up nets that can get kids started in tennis in their own driveway or on their local playground, and there is plenty of optimism for the future.
“We’re very excited about 10 and Under Tennis, both in terms of what it has already delivered and what it promises for the future,” says Kamperman. “We believe we’re going to see the results of our collective effort popping up on playgrounds and tennis courts throughout the United States for generations to come.”
To get started today or for more information on 10 and Under Tennis, go to 10andUnderTennis.com. For more information on the first-year free membership offer for those 10 and under, go to tryusta.com or usta.com/membership and use the source code NEWGAME. And for more on USTA Jr. Team Tennis, go to jrteamtennis.usta.com.