, Tennis: 22% More Participation In 2020 With Covid-19 Pandemic, What’s Next, The Nzuchi News Forbes

Tennis: 22% More Participation In 2020 With Covid-19 Pandemic, What’s Next

, Tennis: 22% More Participation In 2020 With Covid-19 Pandemic, What’s Next, The Nzuchi News Forbes

Tennis has caused quite a racket during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, in a good way.

According to a Physical Activity Council’s Participation (PAC) report, 2020 saw a 22% upwards bounce in tennis participation in the U.S. Over 21.6 million people played the sport last year with over 6.7 million being either completely new players or those returning to the sport after having been away for a while. The number of new players courted (close to 3 million) was 44% higher than the baseline number for 2019.

Last December, I covered for Forbes why tennis has remained a good option for people seeking to rally with both physical and social activity during the topsy-turvy-spin of the pandemic. Unless you are doing something horribly wrong, tennis should not involve tackling, wrestling, body-checking, or any similar close physical contact. Thus, you can play tennis while maintaining social distancing as long as you replace the end of game handshake with something like a racket tap, a “you complete me” look while forming the shape of a heart with your fingers, or just a really intense stare. At the same time, tennis can give you a good workout, getting most of your body moving with the possible exception of your ears. And the sport can be quite social. After all, playing tennis in complete silence with absolutely no conversation would be a bit unusual.

The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic did serve notice about how tennis can help keep people fit and interacting with each other, even when nature drops us a deuce. So this may be a smashing opportunity for a tennis revival in the U.S. As a result the USTA Foundation, which is the charitable arm of the United States Tennis Association Incorporated (USTA), is serving up the “Rally for the Future” campaign. The goal is to string together $20 million over the next three years to support more than 250 National Junior Tennis & Learning (NJTL) chapters across the U.S. 

“Rally for the Future is the single largest fundraising campaign in USTA Foundation history,” said USTA Foundation President Kathleen Wu. Consider it a service return to the “Rally to Rebuild” campaign that raised over $6.5 million in 2020 to support NJTL chapters that got slammed by the Covid-19 pandemic. This funding helped keep all NJTL chapters open in 2020 with 209 chapters providing at least four weeks of tennis programming. “None of the places needed to be shuttered,” said Wu. “This showed us that we can do so much at an even bigger scale.”

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Wu explained how The Rally for the Future campaign will help further grow NJTL network chapters and help them provide free or low-cost tennis and education programming for over 160,000 under-resourced youth across the country. “In 1969 Arthur Ashe founded the NJTL Network to reach low income and underserved communities and give everyone access to tennis. Many of these communities have been the hardest hit by the pandemic.”

, Tennis: 22% More Participation In 2020 With Covid-19 Pandemic, What’s Next, The Nzuchi News Forbes

She emphasized how such tennis programs can not only address the physical inactivity epidemic that the U.S. is facing but also provide “life skills education.” In fact, the NJTIL Network served as center courts for different communities struggling during the pandemic. For example, Addison Staples, Executive Director of Aces in Motion (AIM) located in Gainesville, Florida, described what happened when schools shifted to online classes in 2020: “With the help of all of our staff, we devised a comprehensive after-school program, which mirrored the exact same format as the one we had before but everything online. We still offered 1:1 tutoring, we still offered socialization, games, exercise, mental health counseling so we had a mental health counselor on-staff that would meet with students to talk about their struggles and challenges with the pandemic, we had cooking lessons, guest speakers, and much more that was all offered five days a week.”

When schools started returning to in-person classes, but not all students felt comfortable doing so, AIM set up 20 to 25 student learning pods. “Over 90% of our students are 150% below the poverty level which meant that when the pandemic hit, some students were forced to help out the family with work, rent, and food,” Staples added. “The other thing we did since a lot of people were in fear of paying their electric bills, rent, and food, we partnered with other organizations to deliver food to families, we paid for internet on an as needed basis, we handed out laptops to the students in our program and we paid for internet for those who couldn’t pay for it.”

As another example, Dave Higaki, Executive Director of East Palo Alto Tennis & Tutoring (EPATT), mentioned how USTA Foundation funding helped them, “expand our tennis programming. Once we were able to get back on the courts and the local government officials but tennis as one of the acceptable activities as an ideal social distancing sport, we actually expanded our tennis program from 10 hours a week to about 35 hours a week because what tennis did is that it met kids’ social and emotional needs and it got them off of their computers and Zoom and into engaging with their peers and much needed social interaction and exercise.”

The Rally for the Future Campaign will not only support NJTL Chapters in general but also bolster several key programs for the Chapters. One is the “Return the Serve” presented by CHASE program, where Chase will provide educational and learning opportunities focusing on financial health. Another is the NJTL Essay Contest presented by Deloitte for which NJTL participants will write essays answering thought-provoking questions. A third program is the USTA Foundation College Scholarship Awards. A fourth will be the Student-Athletes/Excellence Program supported by American Express, which will select student athletes with high potential to succeed at the collegiate and professional levels. 

The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic may have offered tennis in the U.S. a break point, a key turning point. After all, it wasn’t too long ago when Merlisa Lawrence Corbett wrote a 2013 piece for The Bleacher Report entitled “Why Is American Tennis Dying?” As you can imagine, the word “dying” is not positive unless you are talking about “dying to play” or “dying your pants.” Despite the growth of tennis in other parts of the world, there was the perception in the U.S. that tennis was not a sport for the masses. In fact, finding a pair of real tennis shoes in some shoe stores became as hard as finding an alpaca in a night club.

However, all of that may be changing. With the pandemic stripping the cover off of many problems in our the U.S. such as physical inactivity and income inequities, tennis may have found its sweet spot. It could serve as a sustainable way to get kids and adults from all backgrounds moving more again.

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