After focusing primarily on baseball and lacrosse in his young life, Brandon Serna decided two years ago to swing a tennis racquet for the first time.
“I wanted to experience what tennis is really like and how people can teach me how to play it,” said Brandon, 13, who lives in Washington. “And it was safe.”
The peak of the coronavirus pandemic two years ago led to a change in daily habits and routines: Participation in organized contact sports such as basketball and football were stopped because they were deemed unsafe, as were other indoor sports.
But at a time during a pandemic when many activities ground to a halt, tennis participation surged – and black and Hispanic faces played a big part in the increase.
The USTA recently announced the results of a study showing that esports participation among Black/African American gamers increased from 1.6 million in 2019 to 2.3 million in 2021, a 43.75% increase is equivalent to.
According to the results of sports marketing surveys, what caused this increase? The USTA’s quest to find ways to increase tennis participation across the country, which has been in lockdown in many areas.
Tennis became a safe outlet.
“Once the pandemic hit, we were very focused on helping the local tennis industry stay open,” said Craig Morris, USTA’s chief executive of community tennis. “Because tennis is an outdoor sport where opponents and teammates are naturally distanced from each other, it was a great way to stay active with social distancing.”
The USTA urged keeping the courts open during the pandemic and providing assistance to coaches at a time when many people are under financial stress.
“It was really important for us to make sure people could still go to tennis courts and that’s really impacted the way we started giving grants to courts and coaches,” Morris said. “The financial grants would allow them to push open the doors.”
Much of the push came as major tennis groups — including the USTA, the USTA Foundation, the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, the United States Professional Tennis Association and the Professional Tennis Registry — banded together during the pandemic to form Tennis Industry United. Tennis Industry United’s goal: Find ways and keep communications open on how to advance in tennis while the group provided information on COVID-19 safety, instructional clinics and how to reach communities and groups that are more need attention.
This outreach appears to have been successful, according to some key findings from the study:
· Participation among young players (aged 6-17) increased from 4.6 million in 2019 to 6.9 million in 2021, a 50% increase.
· Participation among Hispanic/Latino players grew from 2 million in 2019 to 3.2 million in 2021, a 60% increase.
· Participation among Black/African American gamers increased from 1.6 million in 2019 to 2.3 million in 2021, a 43.75% increase.
“It was very important to us to make sure people could still get on tennis courts and that has really impacted the way we started giving grants to courts and coaches. The financial grants would allow them to push open the doors.”
– Craig Morris, Chief Executive of Community Tennis for the USTA
During the pandemic, interest shifted at the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation, a group in the nation’s capital dedicated to transforming the lives of youth through tennis and education. With two locations, the foundation, a beneficiary of the Citi Open currently being held in Washington, provides tennis counseling to more than 400 youth 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 was a lot of promotion in Wards 7 and 8, so there was definitely an increase in numbers.”
For Brandon, picking up a racquet for the first time was another way to stay active at a time when many people were retiring from activity.
“It’s such an active sport,” Brandon said. “If you hit the ball over the net and then have to run back to your seat and strategize where you’re going to hit it? I liked that.”
With its support for clinics and school aid, the USTA expects the upward trend to continue. In this case, the goal is to move from introducing the sport to children, to keeping them engaged and playing as they grow older.
Players like Brandon, who after playing baseball and lacrosse, is now addicted to a sport he picked up on the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation website during the pandemic.
“I like how all the coaches are funny and help me learn things from a different perspective,” Brandon said. “Even though I enjoy baseball and lacrosse, tennis seems like a sport I can enjoy and learn more about the game.
“Will I keep playing when I get older? I think so. It is fun.”