After focusing primarily on baseball and lacrosse for much of his young life, Brandon Serna decided two years ago to swing a tennis racquet for the first time.
“I wanted to find out what tennis was really like and how people could teach me how to play,” said Brandon, 13, who lives in Washington. “And it was safe.”
The height of the coronavirus pandemic two years ago led to a change in habits and daily routines: participation in organized contact sports such as basketball and football was halted as they were deemed dangerous, as well as other indoor sports.
Yet in a time of a pandemic where many activities have come to a halt, tennis participation has increased – and black and Latino faces have played a big part in the increase.
The USTA recently announced the results of a study that showed sports participation among Black/African American gamers increased from 1.6 million in 2019 to 2.3 million in 2021, an increase of 43 .75%.
What drove this increase, according to results from data provided by Sports Marketing Surveys? The USTA’s drive to find ways to increase tennis participation across the country which in many areas was stalled.
Tennis has become a safe outlet.
“Once the pandemic hit, we focused a lot of our attention on sustaining the local tennis industry,” said Craig Morris, general manager of community tennis for the USTA. “Tennis being an outdoor sport that naturally has opponents and teammates far apart, it was a great way to stay active with social distancing.”
The USTA has pushed to keep the courts open during the pandemic and to provide assistance to coaches at a time when many people are struggling financially.
“It was really important to us to make sure people could still access the tennis courts and that really had an impact on how we started giving grants to courts and coaches,” Morris said. “The financial grants would allow them to help open the doors.”
Much of the push came when key tennis groups – including the USTA, USTA Foundation, Intercollegiate Tennis Association, United States Professional Tennis Association and the Professional Tennis Registry – united their strengths during the pandemic to form Tennis Industry United. Tennis Industry United’s goal: to find ways and keep communication open about how to navigate tennis as the group provided information on COVID-19 safety, teaching clinics and how to reach communities and groups that needed more attention.
This outreach was apparently successful, according to some key findings of the study:
Participation of young players (aged 6-17) increased from 4.6 million in 2019 to 6.9 million in 2021, an increase of 50%.
Hispanic/Latino player participation increased from 2 million in 2019 to 3.2 million in 2021, a 60% increase.
Black/African American player participation increased 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 that people could still access the tennis courts and that really had an impact on how we started giving grants to courts and coaches. The financial grants would allow them to help open the doors.
– Craig Morris, General Manager of Community Tennis for the USTA
There has been a shift in focus during the pandemic at the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation, a group in the nation’s capital whose mission is to transform the lives of young people through tennis and education. With two locations, the foundation, beneficiary of the Citi Open currently being played in Washington, provides tennis advice to more than 400 young people in the city.
“Before the pandemic, a lot of people really didn’t know about this program,” said Jabari Cosby, senior program manager at the foundation. “During the pandemic, there has been a lot of promotion in Wards 7 and 8, so there has definitely been an increase in numbers.”
For Brandon, picking up a racquet for the first time provided another way to stay active at a time when many people were retiring from activities.
“It’s such an active sport,” Brandon said. “When you hit the ball over the net and then you have to run to your spot and strategize how to hit it? I liked that.”
The USTA, with its support for clinics and aid for schools, expects the upward trend to continue. If this happens, the goal is to move from introducing kids to the sport to keeping them engaged and playing as they grow.
Players like Brandon, who after playing baseball and lacrosse now finds himself addicted to a sport he learned during the pandemic on the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation site.
“I love how all the coaches are funny and help me learn things from a different point of view,” Brandon said. “Even though I love baseball and lacrosse, tennis seems like a sport where I can enjoy and learn more about the game.
“Will I continue to play as I get older? I think so. It’s funny.”