essons learned from team sports
rowing the game. Sounds easy, but we're just beginning -0 see how challenging it may be to get back to the participacion levels of the tennis boom -n the 1970s. In many circles in the tennis industry, there is still some pessimism despite some growth indicators proving that rennis is on the rise again, albejr slowly. The intention of this article j to challenge the naysayers with facts and logic, and come up with at least a couple of "our of the box" proposals based on some of the successes enjoyed by several major team sports in the United States. Of course, to compare tennis equally with team sports like occer, baseball, softball and football is unfair to tennis and the other sports. Historically,
Participation numbers under 18 years old
tennis at the pro level has never been a team sport, except during Davis Cup or Fed Cup play. The question is whether or not we want to, at least in part, try to become a team sport. The chart in this article provides an at-a-glance comparison of tennis to these other sports. It may provide some insight into what these other sports have that might benefit tennis. Four lessons can be learned from this chart.
lesson No.1: Participation This area creates the biggest amount of misperception about the relative popularity of tennis, since the big sports in our country, such as baseball and football, have a huge spectator base through television and ticket sales. Since they are team sports,
they generate fans in large numbers who root for their teams. Tennis, on the other hand, is basically an individual sport, and only becomes a team sport during international competitions. In other words, you cannot compare ten- UnifOrms can enhance team culture. nis to baseball, football or soccer as a spectator sport. Individual sports such as skatHowever, as a participation ing, gymnastics and others seem sport, there is at least some basis to always struggle to attract for comparison, and tennis large numbers. comes our looking pretty good. Why? Individual activities require greater individual discipline. Groups, on the other lesson No.2: Teams hand, provide built-in motivaand tion and take pressure off indiHow do these other sports viduals. deal with youth development? For example, look at soccer Teams, teams and more teams. and baseball, two team sports For children of all ages, group continued next page
and team activities produce fun.
League team participation
League team participation
Adjustments in equipment or rules for younger ages
Parent coaching prevalent
Team uniforms mandatory
National certification coaching
Basis or criteria for participation
Approximate annual growth rate**
"'Tennis data from the Tennis Industry Association, soccer, baseball softball and tackle fOotball data from the National Council o/Youth Sports. ""The reason all other sports except tennis have readily accessible statistics on growth is that their numbers are based on league participation only. ADDvantage/April
that have been successful in recruiting large numbers of children. They do many things to enhance the team culture: uniforms, team names, team parties and even newspaper coverage, giving each child a sense of belonging and importance. This feature helps build self-esteem and confidence, just what a young adolescent wants and needs. Where does tennis fit in? It can be an individual sport, a team sport or both. It's up to us. lesson No.3: Equipment and rule adjustments for younger children
it much easier for the young batter to hit the ball.) In soccer, 450,000 youngsters are playing in organized teams on a field only one-quarter the size of a normal soccer field, with a slightly smaller ball, only three children per team and with no goalie! Another adjustment soccer has made is in the length of the games. Adult soccer consists of two 45minute halves. Soccer for children under 8 years old consists of four quarters, each one lasting only eight minutes! lesson No.4: coaching
Here is another area where all of the team sports evaluated in this article differ from tenBaseball and soccer change nis. They all historically include their competitive rules to aca significant amount of parencommodate different ages and tal involvement through parent abilities in regional and nationcoaching. You can certainly aral team leagues. While the gue that tennis is technically USPTA's Little Tennis program more difficult than these other has pioneered adapting certain sports for younger children to aspects of these other sports to pick up. However, perhaps this help younger players enter the is one area where tennis needs tennis arena, it is still a long way to take a hard look at new ideas to create an easier entry biggest amount of into the sport. After all, if there misperception about the was such a thing as Tball tennis for 4-, 5- and 6year-aIds, parent-coaches sports, such as baseball could accomplish a lot, and and football, have a huge the children spectator base through would still have the option of television and ticket sales. taking lessons from the pros. Recently, the USTA started from having regional or nationpromoting an activity called alleagues for juniors like these Ralleyball, a team format with other sports. scoring based on hitting a tossed In baseball, for example, at ball into a designated area, cerleast 500,000 league particitainly a move in the right dipants are playing Tball (elimirection. We all know the nating the pitcher and making
USPTA Little Tennis advocates parent coaching, a ftature common to most team sports.
USPTA Little Tennis program has advocated parent participation for years, but on a broad scale like these other sports, we still fall significantly short.
Suggestions for tennis Should tennis adjust rules and equipment for younger players? In England the experiment was undertaken. It's called short tennis. They use softer balls and smaller courts. The only problem is that short tennis was created to be a feeder activity for tennis and it was so much fun that it became a nationally recognized and highly competitive sport in its own right. So, now what? Should tennis evolve in certain ways, or change to meet the challenges presented by the new millennium? Let the pundits decide. But who are the pundits? The truth is that the pundits are you and me. As the saying goes, yester-
day is history and tomorrow's a mystery. Today is when the future is determined. Become involved, convinced that your voice and action can help assure that tomorrow is actually not a mystery, but full of a bright future for tennis. And, while we're at it, how about some creative innovations, at least on a local level? Demonstrate a successful model program locally and before you know it, it can quickly become a national movement. After all, even the stock of a company like IBM took the same bumpy road as tennis in the early '90s. We weren't alone. 'ยง)<> Joe Dinoffir, a USPTA Master Proftssional, is the founder and president of Oncourt Offiourt Inc., a company exclusively serving the needs of tennis coaches and players with innovative training aids and educational tools.