New Member Spotlight — USTA Mid-Atlantic
Tell me about the role USTA plays in the tennis industry.
USTA M-A: We are the USTA Mid-Atlantic Section. We are one of 17 sections across the country that help to promote and grow tennis in local communities. We aim to grow tennis in the Mid-Atlantic region, which encompasses Virginia, Maryland, Washington D.C., and eastern and southern West Virginia. As a non-profit organization, we help people and communities grow stronger, healthier, and more connected through tennis. We want tennis to be the most accessible sport and bring the benefits of the game to all people in our region. Some of the ways we do that are through accessible after school tennis programs, scholarships for junior players in need and grants to help improve tennis infrastructure in the local community.
Do you still operate on a membership basis?
USTA M-A: Yes, membership allows people to play and get more into the game in recreational leagues and tournaments, among other opportunities. We also have plenty of opportunities for people to play that don’t involve membership as a way to introduce the game to more people. One example of this is our after-school tennis programs and tennis in PE classes.
We are big fans of your creative efforts. Can you tell us about some of your biggest initiatives to grow the game of tennis?
USTA M-A: One of the creative ways USTA Mid-Atlantic Section is growing the game is through after-school and out-of-school programs. These programs introduce tennis to kids that may not otherwise be exposed to the sport. Not only do children learn the fundamentals of playing tennis, we also incorporate life lessons and character-building skills into every session. We provide high-quality coaches and equipment, and all activities take place in the schools immediately following the school day, so it is convenient for parents. We aim to have our after-school program in as many schools in our region as possible and are particularly interested in delivering the program in underserved communities.
We are also introducing tennis through Net Generation, the official youth tennis of the USTA. Net Generation makes it easier for kids and their parents to learn about tennis and find where and how to play. There are many creative aspects of Net Generation, and one in particular is the way we are working with schools to incorporate tennis into PE curriculum. USTA Curricula, written in collaboration with SHAPE America, is offered for free to PE teachers, for all grade levels. Teachers can then connect with community tennis providers, such as our after-school program, to ensure kids can continue to play after the PE Unit is complete. We really try to make it a seamless ecosystem for kids to get into the game locally.
For adults we are innovating around social tennis opportunities that are designed to cater to adults interested in playing tennis for the first time or those that may have stepped away from the game.
What do you mean by providing a “social” aspect to adult players?
USTA M-A: We are seeing a significant population of adults that are interested in playing tennis that have not been playing — maybe they’ve taken a break from playing because of careers or family commitments or they want to play for the first time. We also know that many people are looking for convenience when it comes to fitness or recreation opportunities and they want activities that fit into their schedule that are low-pressure, but fun and active; where they can have fun with friends or make new ones. Our social tennis events are designed with this in mind.
We have drop-in opportunities, where you can come to sessions when it works best for your schedule. In some of these sessions, we are working on skills and drills and then doing live ball play in a fun and relaxed way. We want to meet people where they are and make it very convenient so they can explore tennis, without having to make a long-term commitment at the start. Or if it leads to an “Oh wow, I’m really into this,” moment, then we’re here to help them take that next step into more competitive options.
Outside of all the programs, do you host tournaments, as well?
USTA M-A: Yes, we host tennis tournaments ourselves and as the governing body for tennis in the Mid-Atlantic region, we sanction tennis providers to host and deliver tournaments.
Which are the biggest tournaments you are responsible for?
USTA M-A: In the USTA League Program, there is an opportunity to advance from local league play into regional or sectional championships. Teams of players earn their way into these types of tournaments based on their performance during the regular league season. We are responsible for running the USTA Mid-Atlantic Section Regional and Sectional championships and those tournaments can have anywhere from 200 to 800+ participants.
We also run NTRP Championship tournaments, which are open to any tennis player to play in and winners can advance to the USTA National NTRP Championship tournament.
As a member of the Physical Activity Counsel, what is the USTA doing to combat the inactivity pandemic plaguing America?
USTA M-A: At the local level in the USTA Mid-Atlantic Section, our key approach is making our after-school programs highly accessible so kids can be active. We’re bringing tennis into schools, right after the school day ends, and getting kids to move through station-based activities so they are active during the session. In some local areas, this may be the only extracurricular physical activity that some children are able to do. We are really proud that since the inception of our tennis after-school programs in 2016, we’ve had more than 10,000 in participation. We are making a positive impact in getting kids to participate in tennis and this extends beyond the school year too, with summer camp programs. This helps kids stay active and engaged through the summer months too.
SFIA and USTA are both partners of the Project Play campaign #DontRetireKid. Your programs seem to strongly coincide with this initiative.
USTA M-A: The idea of introducing and keeping kids in sports is very important for us both nationally and at the USTA Mid-Atlantic Section. With Net Generation, common objectives of curtailing early specialization, developing multi-sport athletes, and increasing youth physical activity are key priorities. We encourage your readers to learn more about how the USTA is applying this by visiting Netgeneration.com as well as Netgneration.com/ADM
Locally, we are using SFIA data and other resources to inform decisions about how we structure and schedule programs and competitive tournaments for youth.
For example, in the Mid-Atlantic Section, we have used the data to inform how we schedule junior competitive tournaments so that we are building in regular breaks in the overall calendar to foster proper youth development and paying attention to event locations so that families don’t have to contend with excessive traveling. And we work hard to make sure that we share that data and best practice information with parents and providers, so that they can be educated on the importance of this approach.
For beginner players, we incorporate a lot of free play into tennis events in the Mid-Atlantic Section, again based on data, to foster a fun and engaging environment to help maximize the experience for kids.
According to our 2018 State of the Industry Report, Cardio Tennis is one of the top 10 fastest growing sports in America — Is this an activity the USTA is interested in?
USTA M-A: We love cardio tennis. We’ve had our staff participate in cardio tennis, which was very fun. It’s something that nationally, USTA aims to leverage and engage us in at the local level. And we are starting to experiment with it locally too, by incorporating certain aspects of cardio tennis into our social tennis programming. There are a lot of possibilities for cardio tennis and in our section, we see the opportunity to embrace the trend and build on it.
How do you see the USTA growing or transforming in the next 5–10 years?
USTA M-A: Wow. That’s a big question! In the next 5 to 10 years, USTA Mid-Atlantic Section is keenly focused on making tennis the most accessible sport for all people in the Mid-Atlantic region. That’s both through programs and providing quality places for people to play tennis in local communities. Our ultimate goal as a section is to build a world-class, state-of-the-art tennis facility here in the Mid-Atlantic that will elevate the game in the region. In addition, we really want to see all local places to play tennis as vibrant, inviting spaces that contribute to creating healthy, active communities. Currently, we help Mid-Atlantic communities refresh and refurbish local tennis courts through a grant program we offer called “Safe Place to Play.” With the generous support of donors, we hope to see this and all of our programs that increase access to tennis grow in the years to come so that everyone can play tennis!