Boom. On Thursday, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) presented some different facts about the tennis participation boom that has been witnessed in the United States since 2019. So I covered forbes in January, the USTA 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 also saw a 90 percent increase in the number of tennis players of Hispanic/Latin descent, a 46 percent increase in the number of black tennis players, and a 37 percent increase in the number of tennis players of Asian origin and Pacific Islander. Those were some big leaps up, as the following chart from the USTA shows:
As you can see in the chart, the percentage of all tennis players in the country who identify themselves as black increased from 32.5% in 2019 to 38% in 2022 in 2020-2022. All of these numbers come from a study by the Physical Activity Council Study on Sports and Physical Activity (PAC) conducted by Sports Marketing Surveys USA and the Tennis Industry Association Participation and Engagement Study (PES).
The study also showed that this boom was not just a situation where the youth need to be served. Instead, new tennis players have spanned the age spectrum. Sure, the number of gamers in the 6-17 year old category has increased from 4.6 million in 2019 to 6.9 million in 2021. But in the past year, 4.2 million players aged 6 and older picked up a racquet for the first time to play in their racquet life, and most of them were adults. In fact, in 2022 there were also one million more tennis players aged 55 and over in the age category, an increase of 17%. That means the number of tennis players aged 55 and older in the US has increased by 94% since 2017.
All in all with an estimated 23.6 million players. Tennis has developed more racquets than other racquet or paddle swing sports. You’d be a little tight if you thought more people were playing pickleball with 8.9 million plates, bad off if you’d bet badminton had more with 6.5 million and played some kind of racquet, if you thought that racquetball, with 3.5 million players, could somehow top tennis in participation. And let’s squash any thoughts that the 1.2 million squash players were anywhere near the tennis number. In fact, the following USTA chart shows that more people play tennis than the 20.1 million who play the other four racquet and paddle sports combined:
What has fueled this tennis boom over the past three years? Well, there was this whole Covid-19 pandemic thing. If you remember, in 2020 people were told to stay at least two meters apart. This made it difficult to play sports like soccer, basketball, wrestling, chessboxing and Muggle Quidditch. At the same time, typical social events like happy hours, where people could spray each other with saliva, were cancelled. As a result, people sought ways to engage in physical activity and engage in social interactions. Then tennis matched.
But other factors have also played a role in the past three years. Many USTA programs and investments have really paid off in recent years. This includes initiatives to build more tennis courts and help more people learn the sport. For example, the USTA Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the USTA, has already pledged $6 million in grants to support the National Junior Tennis & Learning (NJTL) chapters in the years to come. These chapters provide tennis and educational programs to youth in neighborhoods who otherwise would not have the resources to do so.
Also, compared to the past, nowadays you see a greater variety of faces playing tennis at all levels. For example, take a look at the top 50 professional world rankings for men and women and you will find several American players who would identify as black 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 broader spectrum of tennis players would mean a broader 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 US will not make it to the pro ranks. Nonetheless, the increase in diversity among tennis players in general should bring a variety of benefits. It gives a greater number of people access to the physical, emotional, mental and social benefits that tennis can bring.