Nickelodeon's Jeff Sutphen is serving as master of ceremonies for Tennis Night in America’s youth tennis demonstration.
© Robert Voets
By E.J. Crawford, USTA.com
With a talent for creating shows that engage kids and teens alike, Jeff Sutphen has been a television staple for the past decade. He has worked for Nickelodeon, ABC, VH1, MTV and E! as a sought-after host and producer, and he currently hosts the hit Nickelodeon game show "Figure It Out."
On Monday, Sutphen served as the master of ceremonies for Tennis Night in America’s youth tennis demonstration prior to the exhibition matches featuring Victoria Azarenka, Juan Martin del Potro, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams. In conjunction, the multitalented 35-year-old spoke with USTA.com to discuss why tennis is a great sport for kids, his idea of a perfect Saturday afternoon and the many potential uses for a tennis racquet.
USTA.com: How did you decide to get involved with the USTA’s youth tennis campaign and, in particular, to host the Tennis Night in America youth tennis demonstration?
Jeff Sutphen: I’ve participated in Nickelodeon’s annual Worldwide Day of Play events and I’ve seen a lot of involvement from the USTA, which is really cool. So when I was asked this year to participate in the USTA’s youth campaign, I thought it was an awesome opportunity and really wanted to be part of it. For me, it’s so important for kids to get out and play. And tennis is such a great activity. A big part of childhood is getting outside and being active, and what better way to do that than with the game of tennis?!
USTA: You work with kids every day. How crucial is it to reach kids at a young age and encourage them to get outside and be active?
JS: Nowadays there are so many distractions that are easy enough to keep us inside, whether it’s television shows or video games. I’m not saying don’t watch television shows or play video games, because that’s part of being a kid too, but, hey, put that stuff down for an hour or an hour-and-a-half a day and get outside and swing a racquet. It’s a great way to have fun with your friends. And really, I’ve found a lot of great uses for a tennis racquet. They make great guitars, and every once in a while I’ll strap ’em on my feet and go snowshoeing.
USTA: Air guitar aside, what’s your background with tennis? How did you get started?
JS: A lot of people in my family were tennis players, so I was exposed to tennis at a young age. I never played competitively, but my grandparents were unbelievable tennis players and they played well into their late 70s or early 80s. They’re both around today at 92 years old, and I honestly believe that them playing tennis and being active is why they’re still here and doing well. And that’s a really cool thing.
Tennis is one of the few sports that can be considered a lifetime sport. If you play football, awesome, I envy you, but they’ll come a time you can’t play football any more. But games like tennis, you learn early on and you’ll be able to play your entire life.
USTA: Is that family aspect part of the appeal of tennis, that it’s something kids and their parents can do together?
JS: Tennis is a great family activity, whether you’re all playing together as a family, playing some mixed doubles, or if you’re out for some good recreational fun. It’s a great game even if you’re just going to a match to be supportive. I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than going out and watching your kids play tennis.
USTA: You recently did a video shoot promoting youth tennis. Is that the first time you’ve played with the youth equipment sized right for kids? How did it go?
JS: At Nickelodeon’s Worldwide Day of Play, I’d seen it and wanted to hop on, but I never had the opportunity. But I was curious, with the smaller courts and the balls that didn’t have the same resistance as the [yellow] balls do. So it was my first time during the shoot, and I’ll tell you, I can sign up for that. It puts the game at a pace I can keep up with. I really think, push comes to shove, if we were using those balls and that racquet, that I could give Serena Williams a run for her money.
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