By Ronald Lyons, USTA Florida Diversity & Outreach Coordinator
Being Black and wanting to play and participate in a sport like tennis can be uniquely challenging, to say the least. From the significant lack of representation within the sport to the expensive price of lessons and equipment to the subtle yet obvious racism that takes place in the sport, tennis is an immensely difficult sport for Black people to be a part of. Understanding the reasons why Black people struggle to participate in tennis is essential to fostering inclusion and growth within the sport, and until these issues are addressed and resolved, tennis will continue to suffer from a lack of diversity.
As a Black man who was fortunate enough to have learned to play tennis growing up and is now working within the sport, I have directly witnessed how the lack of diversity has negatively impacted the game that I love so much. For instance, consistently attending coaches’ trainings with no Black coaches in sight or having continuous conversations with Black league captains that say the only way they can play on a team is if they serve as the captain. For tennis to grow and be more inclusive, these types of issues need to change, and for these issues to change, they must be confronted head-on.
USTA Florida sees the concerns and wants to propel our Florida tennis community forward, but for the community to move forward there must be deliberate and intentional action. During the peak of when the Black Lives Matter movement protests were occurring across the country, a group of staff members met to discuss their thoughts about the state of our country and how we feel that USTA Florida has been supporting us during this difficult time. While having that conversation, there seemed to be a consensus that our tennis community is not doing much to help move our country or USTA forward. With the segregation that our sport allows, we saw the experiences within our organization mirror the experiences that many Blacks are facing throughout the country. It was at that moment we decided it was time to take action to ensure all the Black voices within our tennis community were heard – to create an ultimate shift in our sport.
The AMPLIFY Project was established to help amplify the Black voices in our tennis community so we can provide a more inclusive environment within USTA Florida. Many Black people do not feel welcome to play or participate in tennis and our AMPLIFY Project team’s goal is to help change that. Every facet of the USTA Florida organization will be impacted by AMPLIFY’s initiative: we want to convey that Black people can not only play and excel in tennis, but that there is always room for more.
Staff training and education will be vital for the success of AMPLIFY for the tennis community to be aware of any potential bias or prejudice that they could be unaware of. Professional development and training on equality in sports will ensure that the staff can be educated enough to have these difficult conversations with Black colleagues and in Black communities. The education and training will continue as our organization grows and as individuals are promoted to higher positions within leadership and the community.
As of this writing, one issue we have discussed is the lack of diversity when it comes to tennis coaches. Black coaches are consistently overlooked and underappreciated. AMPLIFY wants to decrease the racial diversity gap of tennis coaches by guaranteeing more opportunities for them to display their capabilities. We also want to provide Black coaches with professional development, so they can gain even more versatile experience in coaching especially in facility marketing, tournament directing, and mentoring athletes. Our hope is that by increasing the visibility, the opportunities and the development of Black coaches we will create a stronger base of diverse coaches within our sport.
We also want to amplify the voices of our Black tennis players. Not only are they constantly neglected, but in many cases, they are also not afforded the same opportunities as other players in the sport. To limit this prejudice, we must eliminate the various obstacles that prevent Black people from participating in tennis and bring the sport to their communities. By hosting more tennis tournaments and events in more diverse communities, it will lead to more Black people being exposed to tennis. For example, how does one pick out a good tennis racquet if they have never seen one before?
Our team will also amplify the voices within NJTLs (National Junior Tennis and Learning) and other community organizations. NJTLs are youth development organizations that offer free or low-cost tennis and education programming to under-resourced youth. With the limited resources in these communities, AMPLIFY wants to help support and enhance the effort that these organizations have extended towards minority youth. Our plan is to increase staff involvement within organizations so that we can increase awareness and help correct a lot of these issues.
Overall, USTA Florida is an organization that strives to be more inclusive but understands creating change can be difficult. This is where our AMPLIFY team excels: we’ve had various experiences inside and outside the tennis community and can better understand and empathize with the many issues Black people face and the aspects that discourage their participation in tennis. Although every Black person does not share the same experiences in the sport or views about the current situations within our country, we believe our qualities and knowledge will help improve the lack of diversity and ultimately resolve it.
To learn more about USTA Florida’s Amplify project, visit www.USTAFlorida.com/Amplify.