By guest blogger Ben Rakusin, USPTA Florida
I recently participated in the USTA [Florida] kids program during the Miami Open. For many years now, the USTA has set up a court at Key Biscayne and volunteer pros have worked with kids during the tournament.
This year the kick-off event drew over 500 kids. Several hundred more participated during different sessions the rest of the week. While there was no set rule that these sessions were “kids only,” the only adult activity was as monitors, supervisors, spectators and cheering sections.
It would have been very satisfying to see some older adults try tennis in this inviting way.
I know that USTA [Florida] Masters Tennis has come forward with a “slower ball, shorter court” alternative to regular tennis, aimed at seniors. But we have a stumbling block here. Seniors have become attracted in droves to another related game. I believe it’s name has something to do with pickles.
Yes, let’s admit it, it’s pickleball.
We obviously can bring 500 kids together for an introduction to tennis, and I doubt that pickleball can have an event to rival this. I’ve seen videos of pickleball with kids playing and a few dozen spectators watching, of all things, a national championship! In contrast, anyone who has ever watched the Orange Bowl or the boys’ nationals in Kalamazoo, knows that the mobs of players and fans are overwhelming.
Meanwhile the number of seniors playing pickleball has become pretty impressive; all credit to them. So, while it’s debatable, I believe tennis is doing a fairly good job at the grassroots for kids, but are we missing something when it comes to older potential players.
The population of Americans age 64-86 is set to double by 2050. What a resource! What a market! Have we tapped it adequately or did someone beat us to it?
So back to Masters Tennis; simply put, maybe the USTA is successfully growing the kids’ game but do we still have some work to do with older players? Pickleball seems to be doing the opposite, creating a game strongly associated with older players and a so-so image with younger people.
So while the creation of Masters Tennis was a great move forward, are there enough seniors out there that realize that they can re-capture the thrill that they had playing tennis many years ago by using a different ball and less-intimidating court?
All of us — USTA, USPTA, PTR, ITF — need to really hit more people over the head with it and make it the first choice in racket sports for seniors.
I’m open to suggestions and I’m sure the USTA is as well.
If you teach a large number of seniors, this is something to chew on. While I was hitting with some 7-10 year-olds at Key Biscayne (using foam, red and orange balls on a 36′ court), I started thinking, I hope these kids’ parents and, yes, grandparents are out there somewhere, playing tennis.
Better yet, I hope the great grandparents are still playing because of Masters Tennis.
Actually, I love pickles, but I love tennis even more.