By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
WASHINGTON D.C. -- From 10 and Under Tennis to adult players to parents who want to take a more active role in their child's personal development, the Community Tennis Development Workshop (CTDW) each year serves as the meeting of the most tireless minds from all 17 USTA sections and the national level to discuss the future of tennis in the United States.
As part of USTA.com's coverage of the 2011 CTDW in Washington D.C., we're going around the workshops to discover which new ideas, initiatives and practices are pushing people towards the ultimate goal: To promote and develop the game at all levels.
Along the way, we'll meet the impassioned speakers delivering the presentations and come to know what drives their efforts.
Virgil Christian, USTA Director of Community Tennis Development
Why he's speaking:
Because the rule change for January 2012, which states that 10-and-under tournaments must be played using slower-moving and lower-bouncing balls, on smaller courts and utilizing shorter, lighter racquets, is fast approaching, and this should be great news to tennis programs and facilities.
If successful businesses operate on the idea of establishing best practices for engaging all its employees, then the idea that a sport like tennis cannot do the same with all of its players is illogical and stagnant. Rule changes in the game have historically been called "radical," with the latest being no exception; yet the idea of getting as many kids as possible to play regularly at an improved level is not radical in the least.
Establishing kid-friendly courts -- or "Kids Zones" -- shows your community that you are sincere in making an investment in their lives by giving them places to stay active, have fun and learn a sport that they can play for a lifetime.
In turn, as a provider, you have also given families another avenue to connect.
"A parent can be as easily convinced if they watch and see their child having fun," said Christian. It could be that the adult himself/herself dropped out of tennis as a kid because the game was too difficult to learn or that they were wary of encouraging their kids to take up tennis under the old system, which forced everyone to play on a full-sized court. The new way of play is equally about earning trust.
Christian then offered a potentially powerful visual: "If you close your eyes and imagine a tennis court, you see white lines over a wide space. That next generation of players will envision something totally different in their minds." In the near future, play on 36-foot and 60-foot courts will become the norm for kids 10 and under, along with regulation courts that feature blended lines to accommodate every form of the game.
"If you're not preparing yourself as a facility, you're basically saying, 'Kids are not welcome here.' We know that change takes time. You'll need resources, buy-in and support from those within the community. Be deliberate, and consider your staff and existing infrastructure, and don't make decrees. Be honest in establishing goals.
"What you can express is this: With over 3,000 community courts either newly constructed or converted, there has yet to be one person to declare changes made for kids as a bad idea."
Feature Idea: We'll Work With You
Any conversion attaches cost -- normally about $300 to line a single court -- but the USTA has made grants available that can reimburse up to 75 percent of the price of blended lines (50 percent from national, 25 percent from your section) for applying facilities. Suddenly the idea of converting an entire club is affordable, and now each court is 10-and-Under-Tennis friendly.
Two courts, in effect, can be morphed into eight with blended lines.
"Court conversions can allow for a centralization of tennis," said Christian, citing real-life scenarios in which parents drop kids off to play tennis in one before driving a few miles away to another set of courts as passé. Time spent and gasoline regained, along with the idea that a participating facility can become an all-encompassing hub of tennis activity, eases fears about cost even further.
Another aid in rule-change exposure and education has been the cooperation of college coaches, such as Stanford's Dick Gould and UCLA's Billy Martin, who want very much to be relevant figures within the community surrounding their campuses.
"Often they will invite kids to play at their facilities, which is great on its own merit before you look at the court during their actual varsity matches and see that they've added permanent blended lines," said Christian.
How To Improve: Consumer Involvement
"We're only in the infancy of consumer involvement," said Christian, to a room filled with providers and insiders. "Ours is a niche status within the American population. Right now, we're almost irrelevant; that's a fact. Yet the tools are there, and the format has been tested. We have the product now. As the rule change approaches, you'll see the marketing efforts ratcheted up even further.
"Again, it takes time, but the demand will come, and when it does, we want you to be ready."