After spending his childhood mainly on lacrosse and baseball, Brandon Serna began to play tennis two years ago.
“I wanted to experience what tennis was really like and how people could teach me how to play,”Brandon, 13, lives in Washington. “And it was safe.”
Two years ago, at the height of the coronavirus epidemic, there was a shift in daily routines and habits. In particular, participation in organized contact sports like basketball and football was stopped because they were unsafe.
Yet in a time during a pandemic where a lot of activities came to a halt, participation in tennis climbed — and Black and Latino faces played a big part in the increase.
The USTA announced recently the results of a study showing that participation among Black/African American athletes grew from 1.6 Million in 2019 to 2 million in 2021. This is an increase of 43.75%.
According to data from Sports Marketing Surveys, what drove the increase? The USTA’s drive to increase tennis participation in the country, which was, in many cases, under lockdown.
Tennis has become a safe outlet.
“Once the pandemic hit, we focused a lot of our attention into supporting the local tennis industry staying open,”Craig Morris, chief executive of USTA’s community tennis division, said this. “Due to tennis being an outside sport that naturally has opponents and teammates distanced from each other, it was a great way to stay active with social distance.”
The USTA pushed to keep courts open during pandemics and to help coaches in times of financial stress.
“It was really important for us to make sure people can still get on tennis courts and that really impacted the way we started to put out grants to courts and coaches,” Morris said. “The financial grants would allow them to help kick the doors open.”
A big part of the push came when key tennis groups — including the USTA, USTA Foundation, Intercollegiate Tennis Association, United States Professional Tennis Association and Professional Tennis Registry — joined forces during the pandemic to form Tennis Industry United. Tennis Industry United’s goal was to communicate and find ways to help navigate tennis forward. They also provided information on COVID-19 safety and teaching clinics as well as how to reach communities and other groups that require more attention.
According to key findings from the study, this outreach was apparently successful.
· Participation among youth (ages 6 to 17) players grew from 4.6 million in 2019 to 6.9 million in 2021, an increase of 50%.
· Participation among Hispanic/Latino players grew from 2 million in 2019 to 3.2 million in 2021, an increase of 60%.
· Participation among Black/African American players grew from 1.6 million in 2019 to 2.3 million in 2021, an increase of 43.75%.
“It was really important for us to make sure people can still get on tennis courts and that really impacted the way we started to put out grants to courts and coaches. The financial grants would allow them to help kick the doors open.”
— Craig Morris, chief executive of community tennis for the USTA
There was a shift in interest during the pandemic at the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation, a group in the nation’s capital with a mission to transform the lives of youth through tennis and education. The foundation, which is a beneficiary of the Citi Open in Washington, offers tennis guidance to over 400 youths in the city.
“Prior to the pandemic a lot of people really didn’t know about this program,”Jabari Cosby was the senior program manager at the foundation. “During the pandemic, there was a lot of promotion in Wards 7 and 8, so there was definitely an increase in numbers.”
Brandon found a new way to stay active in a time when many people were withdrawing from sports.
“It’s such an active sport,”Brandon said. “When you hit the ball over the net, and then you have to run back to your spot and strategize where you’re going to hit it? I liked that.”
With its support for clinics and aid to schools the USTA expects this upward trend to continue. If this happens, then the goal is to shift away from introducing the sport directly to children to encouraging them to keep playing the sport as they get older.
Brandon is one of the many players who, after playing lacrosse and baseball, has become a fan of a sport he learned during the pandemic at Washington Tennis & Education Foundation.
“I like how all the coaches are funny and help me learn things from a different perspective,”Brandon said. “Even though I like baseball and lacrosse, tennis seems like a sport where I can enjoy and learn more about the game.
“Will I keep playing as I get older? I think so. It’s fun.”