Wednesday, February 26th, 2014
I find it hard to resist any opportunity to talk about my favorite sport. And while we’re still buried in a once-in-a-generation winter of snow and cold in the Northeast, tennis is about to make some big news. Not among the pros, where the action won’t heat up again for several months, but at the recreational level—which is far more important for its future.
Never have the ranks of top U.S. players been so slim: Serena Williams, dominant though she still is at 32, is our lone bona fide Grand Slam contender (though Sloane Stephens could well join her soon). No American man has won a major title since Andy Roddick in 2003. Unlike many other countries, we aren’t drawing the best athletes to the sport and aren’t keeping them.
Recognizing the problem, the USTA is wisely focusing its efforts on the grass-roots level. The goal: Get more kids to give the game a chance, and help them be successful and have fun from the beginning so they stick with it. That’s what World Tennis Day is all about. On Sunday morning at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (site of the U.S. Open), the USTA will attempt the world’s largest tennis lesson, featuring more than 250 children (as young as age 4) from local youth organizations. If successful, there will be a special presentation ceremony Monday evening with the Guinness Book of World Records at Madison Square Garden prior to a singles match between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. The night’s biggest entertainment, though, could well be the sibling matchup between U.S. champions past (Patrick and John McEnroe) and current (Bob and Mike Bryan).
This isn’t a mere publicity stunt. The USTA is truly investing in the game. It has launched 10 and Under Tennis and built more than 10,000 kid-size courts that make the game easier to learn (especially when played with slower, lower-bouncing balls). It offered 1,400 free opportunities for kids to pick up a racquet last year and partnered with FLOTUS Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign. The organization has committed to installing 5,000 additional kiddie courts and training 15,000 new youth coaches, trainers, and volunteers during the next three years. These efforts are already paying dividends. Tennis participation is at its highest level in three years and, notably, has increased by 13 percent among kids 6 to 11. The goal is to attract a new generation of fans and lifetime players. Maybe one of them will be the next Serena. Maybe not. But these moves have tennis back on the right track.
Want to get your child started in this great game (as I did my son, who will be beating me before long)? The USTA is hosting events for kids and families (many of them free) around the country throughout March. Find one one near you here. While you’re at it, why not pick up the perfect junior racquet and outfit for your child.
Young girl having fun on tennis court via Shutterstock.
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Wednesday, September 4th, 2013
This past weekend marked not only the end of summer, but the start of National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. As we all know, childhood obesity is a growing problem in our country, caused by factors such as poor diet and sedentary lifestyle. Over Labor Day weekend, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) held an event to reveal that the physical inactivity of our youth has become a public health epidemic that they intend to help resolve.
Currently in the midst of the second week of competition for the U.S. Open tennis championships in Flushing, New York, the USTA also capitalizes on the tournament as a way to bring tennis to America, specifically our youth. The USTA has partnered with over a dozen organizations, including Partnership For A Healthier America, the Clinton Foundation, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, to get our kids active.
“Physical inactivity is estimated in 2009 to have killed about 5.3 million people due to chronic diseases across the world,” said Bill Kohl, Professor of Epidemiology and Kinesiology at the University of Texas and Founder and Director of University of Texas Physical Activity Epidemiology Program. According to Kohl, 80 percent of children around the world are not getting enough exercise for optimal health and it’s time to do something about it. After all, this generation of children is expected to live five years less than their parents.
Physical inactivity is a huge contributing factor to this calculation. “We as adults have engineered the opportunities for physical activity out of daily life—engineered this to a point where [kids] are sedentary and not physically active,” said Kohl. The recommendation from the CDC is that kids participate in 60 minutes of physical activity each day and, according to Kohl, even the best of physical education programs in schools are only able to provide a quarter of that.
The USTA has focused its energies on making tennis a more accessible sport for young players so they can get the exercise they need. “The primary reasons that kids are going to play sports is because it’s fun,” said USTA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Alexis Colvin. The USTA has worked hard over the past year to develop what they are calling “ten and under tennis”—tennis for young kids using equipment and rules tailored to their size and experience to make the sport more fun to learn. Softer balls, smaller courts, lighter racquets and the elimination of rankings and tournaments for the under-10 age bracket are all part of the reformation.
“Can you imagine we had four-foot tall kids playing with the same ball and racquet as Roger Federer?” said Sue Hunt, USTA Chief Marketing Officer. “We’ve changed the game and it’s fun to play now.” Fun is what will keep kids engaged throughout their lives, keeping physical activity up and health benefits with it. The USTA also hopes to be a model for other sports so that children will become lifelong (but not necessarily professional) athletes.
Bob Harper, fitness expert and training extraordinaire of The Biggest Loser, seconds that. “The last thing I would want to see is a child in a gym on a treadmill,” he said. “What I want to see is the parents taking their kids on a weekend getaway of hiking and biking.” Making exercise fun truly begins at home. “We have to get our parents, not only getting our kids to be more active, but they need to be more active because our children watch what we do.”
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