Boom. On Thursday, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) served up some diverse facts about the boom in tennis participation that’s occurred in the U.S. since 2019. As I covered for Forbes in January, the USTA had already announced earlier this year that the boom has resulted in a net 33% increase in the number of tennis players over the past three years. Well, now the USTA has revealed that this boom has also included a 90% increase in the number of tennis players of Hispanic/Latino descent, a 46 percent increase in the number of Black tennis players, and a 37% increase in the number of tennis players of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. Those have been some big time bounces upwards as the following graphic from the USTA shows:
As you can see in the graphic, from 2020 to 2022, the percentage of all tennis players in the country who identify themselves as people of color has swung up from 32.5% in 2019 to 38% in 2022. All of these numbers came from a study from the Physical Activity Council Study on Sports and Physical Activity (PAC) administered by Sports Marketing Surveys USA and the Tennis Industry Association Participation and Engagement Study (PES).
The study also showed how this boom hasn’t just been a youth must be served situation. Instead, new tennis players have spanned the age spectrum. Sure, the number of players in the age 6 to 17 category went from 4.6 million in 2019 to 6.9 million in 2021. But last year, 4.2 million players who were age 6 years and above raised a racket for the first time to play in their lives, and most of them were adults. In fact, the year 2022 also saw one million more tennis players who were in the 55 years and older age category, a 17% increase. That means that the number of tennis player 55 years and older in the U.S. has gone up by 94% since 2017.
All in all, with an estimated 23.6 million players. tennis has been creating more of a racket than other racquet or paddle-swinging sports. You’d be in a bit of a pickle if you had thought more people played pickleball with 8.9 million platers, bad off if you had bet that badminton had more with 6.5 million, and operating some kind of racket if you had believed that racquetball with 3.5 million players could have somehow topped tennis in participation. And let’s squash any thoughts that the 1.2 million playing squash was anywhere close to the tennis number. In fact, the following USTA graphic shows that more people are playing tennis than the 20.1 million playing the other four racket and paddle sports combined:
What has fueled this tennis boom over the past three years? Well, there has been that whole Covid-19 pandemic thing. If you recall, back in 2020, people were being urged to stay at least six feet apart from each other. That made it difficult to play sports such as football, basketball, wrestling, chess boxing, and Muggle Quidditch. At the same time, typical social events such as Happy Hours where people could spray saliva at each other were canceled. That left people looking for opportunities to get physical activity as well as engage in social interactions. Tennis fit the bill then.
But other factors have been at play over the past three years too. A lot of the USTA’s programs and investments over time have been really paying off in recent years. These have include initiatives to build more tennis courts and help more people learn the sport. For example, the USTA Foundation, the charitable arm of the USTA, has already pledged $6 million in grants to bolster the National Junior Tennis & Learning (NJTL) chapters in the coming years. These chapters offer tennis and education programs to youth in neighborhoods that otherwise wouldn’t have the resources to do so.
Plus, these days compared to the past, you do see a wider variety of faces playing tennis at all levels. For example, take a look at the Top 50 in the men’s and women’s professional world rankings and you’ll find multiple American players who would identify as persons of color including Frances Tiafoe, Brandon Nakashima, Coco Gauff, and Madison Keys. Such greater diversity can inspire a wider range of people to play tennis. Meanwhile, a wider range of people playing tennis would mean a wider and deeper pool of talent to choose from to serve as the next generation of American tennis stars.
Of course, the vast majority of tennis players in the U.S. will not make it to the professional ranks. Nonetheless, the increase in diversity among tennis players in general should bring a wide variety of benefits. It gives a greater number of people access to the physical, emotional, mental, and social health benefits that tennis can bring.
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