The U.S.T.A. has begun a push to increase youth participation in tennis, which has been sliding downward since the days when such stars as John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors ruled the courts.
The association has not only launched a multimillion dollar ad campaign on the Nickelodeon cable network but developed the low-bouncing balls and standardized the dimensions for smaller courts. For example, courts for children 8 and under are a quarter the size of traditional court.
“They showed us outstanding results around golf,” said U.S.T.A. Chief Marketing Officer Sue Hunt, referring to TGA’s golf academies. “They have a great curriculum and approach that can be delivered to a school location.”
TGA won’t disclose revenue, but claims it’s profitable. It has grown from a two-man operation at its start to seven now, not including the outside consultants it uses to train franchisees and for other tasks. It offered tennis franchises to its 50 existing golf franchisees, and 15 bought the second franchise. It is now in the process of seeking new outside franchisees.
Still, the company’s approach to tennis instruction isn’t universally admired. Bill Niffley, a U.S.T.A. tournament director in Santa Monica, said tennis has traditionally been a sport – unlike Little League – in which young players learn using regular courts and balls.
“We want to protect children from failure, but tennis is a tough sport,” said Niffley. “The greatest players in the world didn’t start on small courts with foam balls. They didn’t transition from smaller courts.”