In May of 2016, I was sitting in my niece’s 8th grade graduation watching my nephews, age 10 and 11, fixated on their cell phones. When I asked what they were doing, they said “Pokemon.” I then received a full tutorial from these two subject matter experts on the world of Pokemon Go, including which Pokemons are most valuable, and why it’s so much fun.
First, it’s digital, so you can play anywhere. Second, the game is constantly changing to give you new things to hunt for. Third, you get rewarded for playing with coins that you can redeem for stuff.
Pokemon is a perfect example of what the so-called Net Generation wants. They have grown up in an environment where they are always using technology. They expect it to be part of everything they do. Let that last thought sink in for a bit: The Net Generation doesn’t just USE technology; they EXPECT it to be part of everything they do. You can debate whether that’s good or bad, but you can’t dispute it as a fact.
To connect with the Net Generation, tennis must take a lesson from Pokemon. We need to use technology as a tool to engage, entertain and educate — both on and off the court. We need to make tennis a game that can be played anywhere. We need to continually provide new challenges to keep consumers engaged over time. And we need to reward them for playing more.
That, in a nutshell, is what USTA’s new Net Generation initiative is designed to do. It’s different from the typical approach to tennis.
First, USTA’s Net Generation initiative is technology driven. The new website features digital games, videos and social media interactions with top American professional tennis players, and other fun games to keep kids engaged with tennis before and after they step on the court.
Second, the curriculum itself is also technology-based, allowing anyone — coaches, parents, community partners — to access tennis tools anywhere they choose. Providers can even upload their own videos to the Net Generation Program Management center to help introduce themselves to parents and players in a digital environment.
Third, Net Generation will continually serve up new tools for tennis providers and challenges for the consumer to keep tennis fresh and exciting.
While technology is a valuable tool, it only becomes powerful when good people put it to work.
As the late Steve Jobs once said, “What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they are basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they will do wonderful things with them.”
We need coaches, parents, and communities to join together and leverage all of these tools to bring the great sport of tennis to the Net Generation. Visit www.NetGeneration.com today to see how you can be part of this exciting new initiative. With any luck, maybe next year, my nephews will be chasing tennis balls instead of Pokemon.
This column originally appeared in the Sept./Oct. issue of TENNIS magazine.