As a committed and dedicated lifelong tennis player, and a twenty-five year career instructor, I am sad to say that I am witnessing the demise of tennis. Somewhat like last call at your favorite watering hole, time appears to be running out on the sport of tennis.
While there are several theories that could arguably be debated on the subject, I personally believe that the main factor responsible for the lack of enthusiasm in the sport of tennis is that we have become, for better or worse, a society in need of instant gratification. We require and expect everything we do in today’s world to happen quickly.
However, tennis is not the only sport being challenged by this mentality.
The NFL, despite all the controversy that has been occurring with the players on the field, is showing a downturn in viewer attendance, and because of this fact, the league has recently made changes to the rules of the game to speed things up.
Like the NFL, Major League Baseball is also suffering in its attendance and viewership and is now considering adapting rule changes to speed up the game.
The sport of golf, while it has never been as popular on television as football, is suffering because no one wants to take a whole afternoon to go play 18 holes.
This timeframe issue is also true with the sport of tennis, and it is one of the main reasons why I believe pickleball has become so popular.
The normal format for a round of tennis or golf is that you go out on the court/course with three other players and, quite honestly, you spend 75% of the time either chasing after/pickling up balls or waiting for your turn to hit. Along with that (like it or not), you are stuck with your foursome for the whole affair!
However, in pickleball, you show up at the courts and mix and mingle with players before, during and after each round of play. Also, generally speaking, because of the nature of the strategy of the game, pickleball players spend much less time picking up balls and a lot more time hitting balls.
Tennis and golf are both what I will call “old school tradition” sports, and the traditions associated with football and baseball have gone unchanged for decades.
However, even though pickleball has actually been around for some fifty years, it is, for the most part, a newly invented game.
Just as the sports of football and baseball are learning to adapt, now is the time for the sport of tennis to look at reinventing itself to make the game more user-friendly for today’s social mindset and expectations.
The ATP tour has addressed this issue by implementing a modified scoring format in doubles; utilizing no ad scoring, with a traditional 7-point tie breaker to decide the first two sets, and just a 10-point tie breaker is played to decide the match, if the match goes to a third set. This has dramatically improved attendance for doubles matches at tournament events, as well as making it more plausible for television coverage. USTA league matches are now also utilizing this scoring format.
I feel that to keep my generation of tennis enthusiasts (aka baby boomers) in the sport, this type of scoring format needs to endorsed and promoted for recreational play as well.
As for bringing a new generation of players into the game, with my youth programs I don’t introduce traditional tennis scoring or regular match play to the kids at a young age. Instead, I focus on fun and fundamentals. The games I play with the kids utilize individual and team game challenges, with either single digit, point by point, (aka ping pong) scoring, or what I call “survivor,” which is last player to miss a shot wins the game. I also make sure my kids know how to be good sports and properly celebrate a victory or accept a loss!
Not surprisingly, I have discovered that the best way for young kids to learn traditional scoring in tennis is to have them play tennis on video games!
I expect that some of my devoted, die-hard tennis playing readers may disagree with me on this one. I encourage you to contact me and let me know your opinion on this subject; a subject that truly concerns and worries me.
Wayne Clark is a certified professional tennis instructor with over 25 years experience coaching players on all levels of the game. Wayne is also qualified in pickleball instruction. He has been the head instructor at The Marco Island Racquet Center since 2001. The Racquet Center offers clinics, private and group lessons for both tennis and pickleball. Coach Wayne’s Island Kids Tennis/Sports Juniors programs run year round, and offer classes for players ranging from kindergarten through high school. Contact Coach Wayne by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone or text at 239-450-6161.