By E.J. Crawford, USTA.com
In recent years the USTA has undertaken a series of efforts to grow the game in the United States, targeting youth as the largest growth market and unveiling a series of offerings based around its landmark 10 and Under Tennis initiative.
In 2012, those efforts were rewarded in the most important way, with more people—and most notably, more kids—playing tennis throughout the country. In all, tennis participation grew 4 percent this year, topping 28 million players for the first time since 2009, according to the annual participation survey conducted for the USTA and the Tennis Industry Association by Taylor Research and Consulting. What’s more, the greatest increase in participation was among youngsters age 6-11, up 13 percent from 2011.
The results also showed a sharp increase in participation among African-Americans and Hispanics, with participation among African-Americans reaching a 10-year high and participation among Hispanics coming in at its third-highest level in the past decade.
The survey, conducted by phone, included observations from more than 7,500 individuals—making it one of the largest annual surveys in any sport.
"We are very gratified that our efforts geared to young players are paying off," said Jon Vegosen, USTA Chairman of the Board and President. "We want to grow the game and make it look like America, and therefore we find it very encouraging that we are seeing growth among young players and in diverse communities."
In addition to the overall, youth tennis and diversity numbers, the survey revealed a notable increase in frequent players—defined as those who play 21 times or more per year—which increased from 4.8 million in 2011 to 5.3 million in 2012 and drew the attention of TIA President Jon Muir.
"It’s heartening to see the total number of frequent players increase by 10 percent in 2012 after all of our collective efforts the past few years to drive this most immediate and impactful consumer segment of the tennis economy," Muir said in a statement. "Frequent players represent more than 70 percent of all consumer spending across the tennis industry."
Amid all the good news, the banner results for the younger demographic stand out. Over the past two years, the USTA has invested in 44 target markets throughout the country in an effort to introduce more kids to the sport through 10 and Under Tennis. And in the past year the association has helped install or build more than 4,400 youth-sized courts in 371 markets and 44 states throughout the nation, constructing nearly 10,000 kid-sized courts overall since 2010.