TENNIS: MORE THAN A SPORT
By Deborah Larkin
This article is taken from an interview between Katrina Adams (KA), immediate past President and CEO of the USTA, Chairperson of the US Open and Chairperson of the Fed Cup and Deborah Slaner Larkin (DSL), former Executive Director of USTA Foundation, Former CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation and lifetime member of NSWTA.
KA: Recent research has shown that people who played tennis tended to live longer than others who did not participate in this type of activity. Why do you think that’s true?
DSL: I don’t think there’s empirical research as to the why, but we do know, for instance there’s more social interaction in tennis, which we know can improve health and other types of behavior. When boys and girls play together there is greater interaction, not only on the court, but it can lead to greater interaction around developing other business and social skills off the court.
KA: I hear from many corporate recruiters that female athletes make very good hires. They have good self-esteem and confidence. They have a strong work ethic. They set goals, are coachable, are good team players and want to learn and succeed. I love hearing this, but is there evidence that separates tennis from other sports?
DSL: As you know in 2012 the Women’s Sports Foundation conducted a national research study for the USTA Foundation that we repeated five years later to find out.
- In both the 2012 and 2017 studies, tennis players scored highest or second highest in academic achievement across five separate measures: percentage of A’s, grade average, 10 or more hours of homework per week, college attendance and college graduation aspiration. Overall, tennis ranks the lowest among 15 sports for both suspension and being sent to the office. And, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that in every academic measure, whether
female tennis players scored highest or second highest, their percentages were higher than the top male tennis players.
- Overall, tennis participants continue to have some of the lowest rates of binge drinking, marijuana use and cigarette use. Importantly, risky behavior declined over the past five years among athletes and non-athletes in almost all sports. This is very good news for all students.
- Tennis players are psychologically healthy and ranked above average on all measures of psychological heath (self-esteem, loneliness and self-derogation) except social support..
- Tennis players ranked above average in good eating habits, but ranked below average in getting at least seven hours of sleep every day and exercising vigorously every day.
KA: That’s disturbing since getting enough sleep is so important. Why is this?
DSL: We can only speculate, but tennis players are studying more, are involved in more extracurricular activities and community service, so they may be sacrificing sleep and vigorous physical activity to fit it all in.
KA: it’s important that parents and coaches help our youth balance their health with other priorities. Overall, this is great news – but I’m not sure many people would be surprised. Most people think tennis is less diverse and played by people with financial and social advantages.
DSL: Fifty nine percent of tennis players are White, followed by Hispanic (11%) and Black (6%). But, we also saw evidence of growth in “Other Race”. Girls continue to report about 20 percent “Other Race” but boys show significant increases in “Other Race” up from 18 percent to 24 percent. And yes, teens who come from higher SES backgrounds tend to have better academic, behavioral, social and health outcomes, however, the impact of TENNIS was similar across all socioeconomic groups. So, teens from lower and middle SES backgrounds also benefited from playing tennis.
KA: Was this a surprise and how do you account for this?
DSL: I’d call it good news. We can only speculate as to the why... but tennis players call their own lines, keep score, learn to problem solve and win or lose, learn to get back on the court and persevere. These lessons carry through on and off the court. It’s a strong reason why we should recruit youth of different backgrounds because ALL teens benefit from playing tennis.
KA: What did you find out about athletes who play more than one sport?
DSL: Most tennis players play more than one sport and those that do derive more benefits. Girls who played tennis were most likely to play soccer and lacrosse. Boys who played tennis were most likely to play soccer and swim. Among the top 10 most popular sports, tennis has the highest number of “high Healthy Achievers (defined as athletes who had the highest levels in all measures). Boys who participated in tennis had the highest percentage across all sports and girls ranked third, less than 1 percentage point behind Lacrosse and Cross Country.
KA: So what do we do with this information?
DSL: Well, we start doing what you did as Chairman and President of the USTA, you made attracting youth of all backgrounds a priority and it’s working. NJTLs, club owners and program leaders could seek out other sports’ program leaders and tell them how their athletes could benefit from also playing tennis. NJTLs can use the data to strengthen their funding proposals. And we want parents to know what a great opportunity tennis will be for their children.