ATTENTION TO ALL:
We are REOPENING our USCTDP programming ( including all match plays, privates and clinics) on January 4, 2021 at 8:00 am. Please stay tuned for our make up schedule.
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Tennis Experiences Boom During Covid-19 Coronavirus Pandemic, How To Play Safely
Here’s something that at first glance may seem like a bit of a surprise: 2020 has been a good year for tennis.
After all, the words “good” and “2020” don’t often go together, unless you are saying “good grief” or “that home-done haircut is good enough for a Zoom call.” While many people and sectors have struggled during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, tennis has actually experienced a boom.
The numbers show how much of a racket the sport has made. Make that how many rackets or racquets. Tennis racket sales are up this year. Compared to the third quarter of 2019, the sales of entry-level rackets in the third quarter of 2020 are up 40.9%, according to the Tennis Industry Association (TIA) Quarterly USA Wholesale Equipment Census. In the same time period, shipments of rackets for adults that are under $50 (the rackets being under $50 and not the value of the adults) jumped by 43.3%. Throw in rackets of all kinds of prices, and shipments have increased by 37.7%. Here’s a graphic from the United States Tennis Association (USTA) showing the numbers:
More tennis rackets being purchased and shipped is likely a sign that more people have started playing tennis. After all, tennis rackets aren’t typically used for other purposes like straining pasta or making the little squares in waffles. Indeed, according to a piece by Arthur Kapetanakis and Victoria Chiesa for the USTA, the Physical Activity Council has reported that tennis participation has bounced up from 6.75% to 10.08% of the U.S. population from the third quarter of 2019 to the third quarter of 2020. That’s a 49.33% relative increase. String together all of these numbers and it looks like tennis has actually been on the upswing during the pandemic while many other things have spun the opposite direction.
So, how is this all possible given what’s happening to other sectors of society? Well, the pandemic has left many yearning for ways to stay both physically and socially active while still adhering to the social distancing and other precautions recommended by public health experts. And tennis in many different ways can naturally “serve” these purposes. It is a non-contact sport, allowing you to stay at least six feet or one Denzel (because Denzel Washington is about six feet tall) apart at all times. If someone is tackling you on the tennis court, something has gone horribly wrong. At the same time, playing tennis can provide fairly extensive social interactions. You can certainly interact with and talk to folks while playing or at least grunt in each others’ general direction.
Additionally, unlike more focused sports such as cheese-rolling, tennis can provide a good full body workout. Playing requires you to use your arms, shoulders, torso, hips, and legs, not necessarily in that order. It also can get your heart rate up and your blood flowing. Finally, the amount of shared equipment and surfaces in tennis is fairly minimal. Certainly, you have to have balls to play tennis, literally not figuratively. And rackets. But assuming that you aren’t sharing rackets, panting on the tennis balls, belting out Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You Been Gone” right at the balls, or using the balls to wipe your face, the chances of sharing contaminated objects doesn’t appear to be that high.
But these natural advantages haven’t been the only reason for the boom. The tennis industry has shown how you can turn a frown upside down, make lemonade out of lemons, create a sandwich out of the wurst, make avocado toast when you are toasted, or any metaphor you may have for turning a tough situation into a positive one. It wasn’t just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. The tennis industry has had to overcome some challenges that pre-dated 2020.
One challenge was perception. Prior to the pandemic, as Mike Dowse, the Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of the the USTA described one challenge that the sport was facing: “the misconception that it is an expensive elitist sport, when in fact it can be relatively inexpensive. You can buy a great tennis racket for under $50.”
Another challenge was that “the tennis industry had been pretty fragmented with an alphabet soup of different organizations,” according to Dowse. There was the USTA, TIA, USPTA (United States Professional Tennis Association), PTR (Professional Tennis Registry), ITA (Intercollegiate Tennis Association), and ATA (American Tennis Association), among others. Such an alphabet soup may be fine if you are trying to spell the word “apparatus” in Scrabble but can make coordinating activities and efforts difficult, including overcoming any misconceptions about the sport.
Enter the pandemic. Back in March, when many were fighting each other for toilet paper and other things or still trying to downplay the seriousness of the pandemic, the tennis world did the opposite. They united and pro-actively developed a clear strategy. The so-called “alphabet soup” of the USTA, TIA, USPTA, PTR, ITA, and ATA, along with others such as major media partners formed Tennis Industry United, a collaboration designed to assess the situation and determine what to do with the Covid-19 coronavirus coming at the country faster than a John Isner serve.
Their decision-making was based on data and evidence rather than just gut feelings. For example, the USTA convened a Medical Advisory Committee, because, after all, isn’t real medical knowledge pretty darn important when you are trying to deal with an infectious disease? The USTA Medical Advisory Committee consisted of Brian Hainline, MD, the Chief Medical Officer of the NCAA and USTA Board Member, Brian Daniels, MD, who practices Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at Nemours Children's Hospital in Orlando, Fla., and is Medical Director of the US Open, Mark Kovacs, PhD, the Senior Director of Sports Science and Health for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Bernard Camins, MD, the Medical Director for Infection Prevention at Mt. Sinai, and Mike Rodriguez, the USTA Senior Director and head of US Open Security. “We analyzed the situation with outside experts to determine what the proper safety measures needed to be,” recalled Dowse. “We worked in tandem to put forth the proper safety protocols.”
The Medical Advisory Committee helped put together what now appears on a “Playing Tennis Safely: Player Tips and Recommendations” website. This includes a warning to not play if you’ve been in contact with someone with Covid-19 in the prior 14 days or are experiencing any symptoms of a Covid-19 coronavirus infection. The website also lists the precautions that you should take before playing tennis:
- Wash your hands with soap and water (for 20 seconds or longer), or use a hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available.
- Bring a full water bottle to avoid touching a tap or water fountain handle.
- Avoid touching court gates, fences, benches, etc., if you can.
- When not actively playing, please adhere to all proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and facemask protocols.
- If you need to sneeze or cough, do so into a tissue or upper sleeve.
- Arrive as close as possible to when you need to be there.
Then the website provides the following recommendations for when you are playing:
- Try to stay at least six feet apart from other players. Do not make physical contact with them (such as shaking hands or a high-five).
- Wash your hands thoroughly or use a hand sanitizer before, during, and after play.
- Use headbands, hats, towels or wristbands to avoid touching your face during play.
- Use a wristband or towel to wipe sweat from your face.
- When playing doubles, coordinate with your partner to maintain physical distancing.
- Use only your own towel and water bottles.
- Avoid sharing food and touching common surfaces such as court gates, fences, benches, etc.
- While there is no evidence that Covid-19 can be transmitted by touching tennis balls, sanitary precautions, such as hand-washing, should still be taken.
- Maintain physical distancing if changing ends of the court.
- Wear a mask over your nose and mouth at all times, except when active on court. Some localities require masks while playing indoors. Be sure to follow local guidelines
Finally, the website relays some tips on what to do once you are finished playing tennis. Basically, one you are done, leave the court as soon as reasonably possible. Don’t go to the locker room or changing area. Don’t shower. (That is, don’t use a shower at the playing facilities. As anyone who lives with you may say, showering, in general, is a good thing.) Don’t hang out around or near the court for any reason. Don’t set up post-match interviews, unless you are a professional tennis player.
The USTA maintains a website to provide Covid-19 coronavirus guidance for tennis facilities as well. This includes advice on how to develop a cleaning and disinfection plan, evaluate and improve the facility’s ventilation system, and maintain social distancing. The guidelines also recommend providing supplies of disposable face masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes. Also, water fountains aren’t a great idea unless they are touchless.
Dowse emphasized that safety was the primary concern when Tennis Industry United was planning what to do. “There would be no play unless we could ensure health.” That was then followed by doing what’s in the “best interest of tennis.” If those two were fulfilled then the next guiding question when deciding what to do was “does it make financial sense?”
April was when plans went into full swing. The USTA committed to spending $50 million to help implement plans, such as $35 million towards community tennis programming, $5 million towards facility grants, $2.5 million towards Certified tennis Teaching Professional Grants, and $5 million towards the National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL). The NJTL network is comprised of over 250 nonprofit youth development organizations that offer free or low-cost tennis and education programming to youth that may not otherwise have the means to play such sports.
The other thing the tennis industry did was worked closely with Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) was re-launch the professional tennis tour. The pandemic led to the postponement of the French Open and the cancellation of Wimbledon in 2020. This meant that the U.S. Open would be the first Grand Slam event of the year. In fact, it would be in many ways the first global sporting event to occur since the pandemic had started.
The U.S. Open went as planned without the Covid-19 coronavirus really joining the main draw. The tournament didn’t have any outbreaks, just break points. Dowse mentioned that 99.97% out of around 13,000 Covid-19 coronavirus tests performed on players and staff turned out to be negative and that the only positives were before the U.S Open. Although the net operating profits were down compared to prior years, “vendors were still able to make money,” Dowse said. “and subjectively the tournament felt great.”
All in all, it’s not super surprising that tennis has experienced a surge in 2020. The surge has shown what proper planning, adaptability, and using science can do to thrive in such uncertain circumstances. And how the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic can shine a light on issues that existed before the pandemic and help galvanize potential solutions. “Tennis Industry United was formed to get us through the pandemic, but aims to continue efforts after pandemic” said Dowse. “We have pivoted to two initiatives: increasing diversity and creating advocacy for the sport. Tennis participation needs to mirror population characteristics.”
For example, the USTA launched the “Be Open” campaign to celebrate the diversity of the sport and to help make potential players from different races, ethnicities, communities, and backgrounds more aware of the sport. Could a silver lining in the pandemic be attracting more and a greater range of people to a sport that can keep people both physically and socially active? It’s certainly helped that tennis industry has been open to having health and science guide decision-making and been open to different possibilities.
A Must watch: Featuring Alison Riske
We had our Annual Christmas visit from Ali Riske.
Some of our kids go to meet and hit a few balls with Ali. She was an inspiration.
Introducing Jeff Moyer - Our Strength and Conditioning Expert
Jeff has been in the strength in conditioning industry for over a decade, having worked in the medical,
private, team, high school and collegiate settings, training clients from youth
development, to rehabilitation and sport performance.
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