Around Australia, tennis court owners are getting ready for their silly season. That’s right, the Australian Open is just around the corner and people all over the country are dusting off their racquets and getting ready for their annual hit.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t carry on for the rest of the year. Use any set of statistics you like, but the consensus is that the number of registered tennis players in Australia has fallen by about 40 per cent since 2000. But why has this happened and can Tennis Australia do much to stop this trend?
First, there’s a commercial reality. We saw it first with squash courts disappearing all over suburban Australia and the same trend is happening with tennis courts.
There are just less around. With most suburban councils looking for more medium to high density residential options, there is pressure to close tennis courts and replace with housing.
If they are not replacing them with housing, some of these are being converted to multi function facilities, to cater for other sports like futsal.
Secondly, there’s just more choice for kids sport in 2017 than there was when I was growing up. Back then, as a boy in Sydney, you mostly played soccer or one of the rugby codes in winter and cricket in summer.
As a girl, you typically played netball. The one exception to this was tennis and its arguable that throughout the 1980s and early 1990s tennis was at a peak.
In 2017, there is more choice. Basketball has taken off, Oztag continues to increase its popularity and, in Sydney, AFL is picking up players.
And finally, most kids I know are more likely to idolise Steve Smith, LeBron James or Sharni Layton than Nick Kyrgios or Bernard Tomic and who could blame them? We have had a good run with popular tennis players like John Newcomb, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, the Pats Cash and Rafter), the Woodies and the older, more mature Lleyton Hewitt.
For the time being at least, that run has ended.
Can Tennis Australia do anything to stop the rot? I think there are so many options for kids sport today than tennis participation will never get back to where it was.
However, I think it’s possible to stop the decline. Tennis Australia need to revamp the Hot Shots program to get more kids through the door at the beginner level, potentially via working more with schools.
All governments are encouraging kids to be more active so that may be the opportune time to increase engagement.
But you know what would really increase participation? If Nick or Bernie, or preferably Sam Stosur or Daria Gavrilova wins the Australian Open, participation numbers would increase.
In this highly saturated sports market that is Australia, everyone still loves a winner!