USTA Colorado
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Charting the Future of Tennis

November 3, 2014 06:14 PM


For the first time in nearly two decades, USTA Colorado brought together facilities from across the state in an effort to share with them the governing body's perspective on the health of tennis, as well as invite them to share their visions for the future of the sport.  

More than 50 attendees from 40 facilities statewide — a mix of both public and private entities — heard from USTA representatives from the District (USTA Colorado), Section (USTA Intermountain) and National (USTA) offices about the current state of tennis at the 2014 USTA Colorado Facility Forum, held in early October at the Marriott Tech Center. Each USTA representative provided a report on the health of the sport from their respective regions, as well as highlighted various projects that were a result of Collaboration and Innovation, the twin themes of the Forum.

The State of the Game
Jeff Waters, USTA Managing Director of Adult Tennis, started the forum with an overview of the changes happening at the National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY. After a short, enthusiastic presentation on the infrastructure enhancements, including the new roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium, the construction of a new Grandstand Court and the improved seating across much of the facility, Waters launched into some participation statistics that have been raising eyebrows at the national level.

The first area of concern for the folks at National is Junior Team Tennis, the USTA's recreational youth model. Participation in USTA JTT has been flat, while other youth sports programs have experienced substantial growth. Several years ago, the USTA abandoned the Recreational Track of the JTT program (the version Colorado continues to run exlusively), focusing solely on the Competitive Track, which required teams to be co-ed and that all players had to have USTA memberships. Waters remarked that "had we [the USTA] followed Colorado's model (the aforementioned Recreational Track), we'd probably be in a better position today," citing the fact that the Colorado JTT program has grown by more than 20% in the last several years.

Despite some flagging numbers for JTT, however, Waters and the folks at National are very excited about the 10 and Under Tennis Initiative, which has netted some fairly impressive numbers. In just four years, the push to grow 10U Tennis has resulted in nearly 1 million students getting exposed to tennis for the first time through their PE curriculum, and nearly 175,000 new after school tennis programs. Play Days, which were developed as a part of the 10U initiative to help kids learn to compete in a non-competitive and fun environment, have grown steadily to include nearly 300,000 players across the country. In general, 10U has been a huge boon for youth programming, and he thanked facilities for helping to promote and deliver quality instruction/play opportunities for those hundreds of thousands of new players. At the national level, Waters explained that locally-branded team tennis programs (like Colorado JTT), Play Days and non-ranking tournament formats (like USTA Colorado's Futures division events) would be among the key junior offerings that the USTA will be focusing on in 2015.

The next area that Waters addressed was adult recreation and competition. Nationally, adult tournament participation has been trending downward for several years, especially in the senior/age-division categories (30 ). While NTRP entries are sliding slightly, age-division events are down significantly, nearly 25% below 2008 totals. Colorado's tournament participation numbers are bucking the national trend, as overall participation is approaching an all-time high after nearly 10 consecutive years of growth. Colorado, Waters said, has been especially proactive in making incremental adjustments to its competitive programming, thereby avoiding some of the stagnancy that's plaguing other areas around the country.

On the topic of adult recreational tennis, Waters was especially complimentary of Colorado's exceptionally popular league tennis series. In the last 10 years, Colorado league participation has soared by more than 60%, to more than 35,000 players. Nationally, USTA League Tennis is still an extremely strong product. After 30 years, the family of USTA-branded leagues draws nearly 1,000,000 participants.

But the overall popularity of league tennis hides a potentially disturbing trend. As Waters notes, there are more league players over the age of 60 than there are under the age of 40, despite the fact that there are more tennis players between the ages of 18-29 than in any other age bracket. The challenge for the USTA is finding how to engage Millennials and getting them involved in sanctioned play (leagues and tournaments). Given that overall participation is rising but the number of unique players is falling, the concern at the USTA is that overall, we need to do something to recruit new players to help fill the courts as our oldest players start retiring from the sport.

The other issue that Waters addressed is the sudden decrease in USTA membership that has been felt in virtually every Section and District in the country. While Colorado membership has continued to climb, as it has for a decade, the last two years have been surprisingly unstable at the national level, where membership has experienced back-to-back declines.

"Historically, USTA Membership has reported modest annual increases of 2-3% in member count each year," wrote Dave Haggerty, USTA President, adding the decline in membership in 2012 "was in spite of bringing in over 45,000 new 10 and under members." Haggerty has since announced the formation of a Membership Innovation Study Group. The goal of the Group "is to evaluate potential new membership models to enable us to remain relevant to consumers, while remaining sensitive to the financial needs of the sections (and districts)."

As the USTA looks forward to 2015, said Waters, it will look to adapt various models to help recruit new players of all ages. "It just so happens that the 10 and Under model works great for adults, too," he said. "Other Sections, like Florida, have a thriving Masters Tennis program (using the orange ball on 60-foot courts) for seniors, and some Districts, like Colorado, have already explored changing tournament formats to make them more flexible, and more attractive for players and families. These are the types of innovations that we hope can be incorporated across the country."


Intermountain's Commitment to Collaboration
Next up was Rob Scott, USTA Intermountain Executive Director, who detailed the multitude of changes to both staff and structure at the Intermountain Section over the last several years. In early 2012, Intermountain hired a new Executive Director, who left after several months and was replaced by Scott, who took the reins at Intermountain that fall. A fifth-generation Coloradan, Scott was quick to point out that the Intermountain Section is the second largest of the 17 other Sectionals geographically, representing six states and some 620,000 square miles. "In order to get anything done," Scott remarked, "We have to work collaboratively."

In the last few years since Scott arrived, Intermountain has led the way nationally in an effort to bring new players to the game. One way it does this is to build on the foundation that strong Districts will generate more tennis participation and USTA members, which will result in a stronger Section. Intermountain passes more of its national funding down to the Districts than any other Section, because, as Scott says, "tennis is most effectively grown at the grassroots level."

He cited Colorado's JTT program as a model for both the Section and for USTA National. "If Colorado’s current locally-branded Junior Team Tennis format were extrapolated to the rest of the country, we would have over 400,000 juniors playing JTT in the country (instead of 64,000)."

Scott then described how highly successful grassroots programs in other Districts were being packaged and tried in different states. Idaho's Tennis is Elementary program — which partners with Boys & Girls Clubs, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters programs to offer introductory tennis to children — is getting a trial in Montana, and Colorado's multiple match Abbreviated Competitive Experience (A.C.E.) Tournament Format will be used in Utah to make events more player and family-friendly. Several states will adopt the ITA/USPTA 2.5 Initiative, which helps recruit new players to the game.

"By working together, we can bring new players to the sport, and ensure the health of tennis for years to come," said Scott.

In addition to working together inside the industry to grow tennis, Scott also stressed the importance of working with partners outside of tennis. He cited the recent reconstruction of the Rocky Mountain Tennis Center (Harvest House) courts, which were destroyed by the September 2013 floods that ravaged Boulder and the surrounding area. "All levels of the USTA came together — National, the Section and Colorado — and we were able to raise enough money to get the courts back in use in time for tennis season."

Innovation key to growth
Representing USTA Colorado, Executive Director Fritz Garger spent the first part of his presentation thanking the attendees for their part in keeping tennis on the right path in Colorado. From the adult league series to tournament offerings to Junior Team Tennis, Garger expressed his gratitude for the excellent job done by providers who help run the many successful programs USTA Colorado administrates.

Garger then stressed that standing on our collective laurels wasn't going to help grow the sport into the future. "We need to continue to innovate," he urged. "That's one of the reasons Colorado has avoided a similar malaise that's occuring at the national level. We work to stay in front of the trends."

Like collaboration, innovation is seen as a key concept in both the Intermountain and Colorado District 5-year Plans. "We have a number of new and exciting formats that have come online just recently, and we are hoping to continue to roll out new and innovative ways to make tennis even more attractive than it is today," said Garger..."but we need YOUR help."

It was then time for the Breakout Sessions, where it was time for facility managers to offer their suggestions on a variety of topics, including tennis programming for 5-8 year olds and the promotion of tennis in their respective communities.


USTA Colorado wishes to thank the following facilities and their representatives who attended the 2014 Facility Forum:

Apex Park & Recreation District
Arapahoe Tennis Club
Boulder Parks & Recreation
The Broadmoor
Castle Pines Village Tennis
City of Aurora
City of Greeley
City of Parker
City Park Racquet Club
The Club at Flying Horse
Colorado Athletic Club Inverness
Colorado Athletic Club Monaco
Colorado Springs Country Club
Colorado Springs Racquet Club
Columbine Country Club
Columbine Knolls Recreation District
Denver Parks & Recreation
Gates Tennis Center/Colorado Tennis Management
Greenwood Athletic & Tennis Club
Fort Collins Country Club
High Altitude Tennis Academy
Highland Meadows Tennis Center
Highlands Ranch Metro District
Junction Indoor Tennis Center
Ken Caryl Ranch Metropolitan District
Lewis Tennis
Longmont Tennis Association
Meadow Creek Tennis & Fitness
Metropolitan State University of Denver
North Jeffco Tennis Club
Parker Tennis
Randy Ross Tennis Center
Rocky Mountain Tennis Center
Skyline Acres
South Suburban Parks & Recreation
Valley Country Club
Work Out West


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