USTA Eastern Celebrating
Women's History Month
USTA Eastern | March 26, 2018
USTA Eastern was privileged to feature three esteemed tennis advocates (who all happen to be women) during the Opening Panel of its 2018 USTA Eastern Tennis Conference on January 27 at the Renaissance Westchester Hotel. Leah Friedman, Sue Hunt and Gigi Fernandez represent unique sectors of the tennis industry and as we conclude a month celebrating the most noteworthy accomplishments and contributions of American women, we shine a spotlight on these three female tennis thoughtleaders whose leadership and groundbreaking work is fueling positive change within tennis and the youth sport industry at large.
Leah Friedman is the National Skills Manager for the USTA and is passionate about making the sport of tennis more inclusive and accessible to American youth since she believes tennis teaches lessons that extend far beyond the court; Friedman works on a number initiatives to help provide tennis programs in underserved communities. ADVERTISEMENT Formerly the USTA's Chief Marketing Officer, Sue Hunt is the Project Director of the Aspen Institute Project Play 2020 initiative, which is focused on collaborating with the national governing bodies of sports to grow national sport participation rates and related metrics among youth. The panel was rounded out by former professional WTA tennis player, Gigi Fernandez, who was the first Puerto Rican, male or female, to win an Olympic Gold Medal.
Given that the 2018 conference theme was On the Fast Track of Tennis Innovation, the panelists kicked off the discussion by addressing the most innovative changes they’ve seen in the tennis industry, touching on topics ranging from trending themes to their well-founded predictions for the future of the sport. Friedman could not hold back her excitement for the USTA’s new unifying youth brand, Net Generation, which is the first youth sports platform to offer a central online resource for parents and children to access providers who have been fully vetted by full background, assuring a safer entry into our sport. The Net Generation platform also offers valuable online resources for tennis providers such as instructional videos, applications and teaching curriculums that can be accessed with any mobile device and has proven to be a useful on-court teaching aid. Hunt also addressed the up-and-coming Universal Tennis Rating (UTR) system that strives to provide tennis players worldwide with a single, unifying language and standard for gauging players’ level of play.
The panelists also addressed the universal decline in youth sport participation and the root causes of this decline, detailing the strategies they’ve used to overcome challenges to successfully entice the youngest members of our community to try tennis! All three women agreed that offering a variety of sports (also known as sports sampling) has proven to be a successful model in engaging young players. The Aspen Institute’s Project Play Initiative is working to connect local civic, youth and sport group leaders in various local communities to find ways they can work together to grow the quality, quantity and accessibility of sport options. Project Play has also developed comprehensive reports with recommendations on how to improve the current youth sport infrastructure within communities that are struggling with high rates of physical inactivity and childhood obesity. Encouraging multi-sport play and discouraging early sport specialization was mentioned as a crucial component in building healthy young athletes. “If we burn kids out and they play baseball 12 months a year; they are not just going to begin to dislike baseball, they may begin to dislike youth sports in general,” says Hunt. As more youth sport organizations, and on a national scale, governing bodies of sports, join the Project Play movement, it is apparent that this decline is something that the industry needs to address in order to increase youth sport participation and retention rates and use sports to foster healthier communities.
This panel’s thought-provoking discussions offered important insights into the always-dynamic tennis industry. As advocates for tennis, USTA Eastern is very grateful and proud to be associated with such inspiring women who are quite literally, changing the game!