The South Street Seaport in New York City took a youthful persona thanks to the United States Tennis Association this weekend. The crowd was completely bombarded with a different view of an area that is normally associated with business professionals and typically fairly quiet except for the occasional sounds of taxis honking in the background or simple chatter from nearby restaurants on the waterfront.
Watching dozens of games being played by kids in coordinated yellow T-shirts from roughly four to 12 years in age, families of various backgrounds filled the group — something that isn’t the usual standard for tennis matches. Children of multiple ages were competing against one another despite ethnicity or socio-economic factors. Their parents sat in the stands as they proudly spectated the games, coaches helped the kids learn to serve, and multiple professional players came out to spend time with the kids and get in a few matches themselves.
The USTA hosted the event on Thursday and Friday to boost tennis involvement among athletic youth. Geared towards providing a welcoming atmosphere for children to learn tennis, the USTA created Net Generation as a pilot tennis program for aspiring and current players. Under the umbrella organization that has been in the works for about five years, parents can find coaches and classes for their children, private lessons, and the appropriate curriculum for each child’s needs. More importantly, coaches and volunteers undergo background checks and training to ensure that the values of the program are intact no matter where lessons are taught throughout the nation and that each child is placed in a safe environment.
The personalized program also allows for kids to feed their love for tennis without any inhibitions.
Craig Morris, General Manager of USTA Community Tennis and Youth Tennis said that Net Generation is the platform where parents and children alike can find what they’re looking for in terms of tennis education or play. “[We’re] really moving Net Generation around for kids. As a parent, [you can go online] and put in your zip code. You’re able to find a coach wherever you are in America. After-school programs, or coaches, or team tennis, or a longterm option — we can find you a spot. … We want to make sure tennis is positioned for the consumer.”
Partnering with the US Open which is being held at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, the diversity of the event was amazing. Typically thought to be a high-brow sport and geared towards mainly white audiences, multiple races and ethnic groups filled the court. Net Generation wants to focus on expanding tennis to more children of color, to demolish the racial barriers that seem to be in place based upon social connotations. In this respect, the program looks to have multiple outlets to be more inviting for minorities.
“Net Generation has a message that regardless of your background … every kid is linked to the same brand regardless of whether they’re in a private country club to wherever they may be,” Morris said, adding that there’s an option for parents to choose coaches to teach their children in a variety of different languages. There are even online educational options, including videos, for children whose parents may not be able to afford a program. “Net Generation can break down those barriers. … The kids want to be together, and [the program] allows for them to do that.”
Considered to be a “sport for life,” Morris said that tennis is a safer option for children because there is no contact. Instead, kids learn sportsmanship, compete with themselves to better their personal game, and they’re always engaged. The General Manager hopes to see more kids pick up rackets in the future as the program pushes tennis to become more accessible.
“The brand creates unity. … We think that there’s a certain [perception of tennis] and we want Net Generation to smash that perception in a very different way.”