May 22nd, 2018
Tennis Case Study: Local Youth Numbers Double Under JTT, USTA Net Generation
My, how learning tennis has changed.
A brief history of finding the best tennis instruction:
1970s: Hope there’s a competent teaching pro in your town
1980s: Send your kid to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida
Junior tennis progression, once a free-for-all of myriad routes to success, has developed into a specific pathway for children. And what was once a difficult start with adult racquets and balls has been kids’-sized, and more importantly, made more fun.
Now, from kids first picking up a racquet to those aspiring to make the school team or even professional play, the journey through the USTA Youth Pathway is the same.
Tennis pros in Jacksonville, Fla., have connected the dots on the youth pathway over the last two years. Historically a hotbed of Junior Team Tennis, the most populous city in Florida and the largest city in the United States area-wise (Jacksonville measures 874 square miles) has seen its junior tennis population double by integrating Junior Team Tennis with beginner tournaments and Net Generation.
“We had roughly 350 kids that played tennis in Jacksonville in 2016. We now have over 500 kids in Junior Team Tennis, and roughly 800 total kids playing,” says local teaching pro Scott Miller, whose company 904Tennis organizes Junior Team Tennis throughout Jacksonville.
Net Generation, launching this month at www.NetGeneration.com, is unifying kids tennis in American under one brand as an easy entryway into the sport. Connecting Junior Team Tennis with local USTA entry-level [Level 8] junior tournaments, Miller says, has grown their numbers exponentially.
“Junior Team Tennis has created the base for establishing and growing Level 8s [beginner tournaments] in our area,” he says. “It has helped all clubs in the area increase participation in their junior programs. JTT gives structure to all kids’ junior programs, where kids have a goal from the first day they particulate in a clinic or lesson. Then they quickly learn about the USTA Pathway and Level 8s.”
As opposed to heavy racquets and high-bouncing adult balls, kids age 10 and under begin with smaller racquets, court sizes, and balls for different levels of play — from red ball for beginners and small children up to orange and green before finally graduating to adult-sized courts and balls.
“We have a red ball pilot program we just registered on Net Generation,” Miller says. “We have 30 new kids age 3-6 years old registered to our program.”
Net Generation connects parents with local play opportunities, and schools with local teaching professionals and clubs to get more kids into the game.
“Through Net Generation we can offered a free racquet for all participants,” Miller says. “That has been a popular selling point when fielding phone calls and returning e-mails. Net Generation’s ability to connect schools to tennis clubs and pros is a very powerful tool. It funnels kids to your program in so many different ways. We regularly get kids registering for our programs through Net Generations advertising.”
A local “Grand Prix”-style points system helps create returning players at local beginners tournaments and educates about advancing and moving along the USTA Florida Pathway. Also important says Miller is acquiring local sponsors, in his case the Go Pro Tennis shop and Brucci’s Pizza, which help with equipment and season-ending celebrations.
USTA Florida staff work with Miller and other area pros to highlight Junior Team Tennis best practices, integrate beginner-level tournaments, and to take advantage of the many USTA and Net Generation resources.
“Net Generation does so many great things, but specifically the connection of schools with coaches, pros, and clubs is a game changer,” Miller says. “When you start combining Net Generation’s resources with JTT, beginner-level tournaments, and streamlining your junior program pathway at your club to mirror the USTA Pathway, your growth potential becomes exponential. All the different pieces fuel each other and you have a lot of kids having fun that become tennis players.”
Miller admits that until the last few years his goals for growth never extended beyond the boundaries of his club. Now, with Net Generation unifying teaching professionals and their program offerings, the easy connections to schools and parents provide huge growth opportunities for the game.
“I focused just on my club and myself for the first 17 years of my career,” he says. “I think many people do that, not that there is anything wrong with that, but I started to find a stronger passion in trying to make an impact in the 904 [Jacksonville] community as a whole. Now with Net Generation and all the assets at our disposal and connections to schools, I honestly think the clubs in our area can create around 4,000 new junior tennis players in the next 5-10 years.”
Parents Getting Started: www.ustaflorida.com/youthtennis/10-and-under-play
Net Generation: www.NetGeneration.com
Florida Junior Team Tennis: www.USTAFlorida.com/JTT
USTA Florida website: www.USTAFlorida.com
USTA national website: www.USTA.com