COVID-19: Impact on Tennis
2020 has been a peculiar year so far for a multitude of reasons, one of which is the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
The coronavirus pandemic has spread across the world, causing widespread shutdowns of several industries including the sports industry and the game many of us have grown to love - tennis. For tennis athletes, coaches and fans, the sport came to an abrupt halt in the United States in early March. The BNP Paribas Open held in Indian Wells, California was scheduled to begin on March 9, and was canceled just days before matches were scheduled to start. By the middle of March, several more ATP and WTA tournaments had been canceled, and tennis clubs began closing for the unforeseeable future. The halt in all-things tennis has caused a ripple of effects for all people involved in the sport, with tennis coaches in particular feeling powerful impacts to their profession and livelihood.
As the coronavirus pandemic struck the tennis industry in full force by the end of March, tennis coaches from the recreational level all the way to the professional ATP and WTA Tour level suddenly found themselves without work. Tennis clubs across the United States closed throughout March and the ATP and WTA initially suspended tour events from mid-March through the end of April, which were extended through July. On April 3rd, the USTA, in conjunction with the USPTA and PTR, along with several other tennis associations, announced that the tennis industry should “take a collective pause from playing the sport we love”.
With clubs closed, tours postponed and play at a standstill, many coaches were furloughed and some were even permanently let go from their teaching positions. However, tennis coaches are often known for their passion and commitment to the sport. This led to new and innovative ways for teaching tennis and continuing the sport that we all love.
A few weeks into the widespread shutdown of tennis, many coaches had already begun finding ways to continue teaching eager and ambitious players over the internet. The initial focus of many coaches was to continue tennis training over video calls, which included helping with mental tactics, point-play strategy, observing technical form and creating off-court fitness programs. Despite the endorsed halt in play by the USTA and two major tennis-professional associations, the USPTA and PTR, some coaches continued to teach outdoors in a socially-distancing manner. As weather conditions continued to warm up across the entire United States, many more coaches also began to start teaching clients outdoors at public courts, using safe distancing protocols and small group sizes.
At the end of May, the USTA lifted the suspension of play and many outdoor tennis programs commenced with small group sizes and strict protocols in place. However, many clubs still had closed doors at the end of May and professional events had not yet resumed, leaving coaches to continue organizing their own lessons at public courts and over video calls.
Lawn Tennis Association's COVID-19 recommendation
It’s now mid-June and tennis clubs across the United States have slowly started to open their doors. In some states, organized play has resumed in a limited capacity, including small group lessons, drills and unsanctioned tournament play. For ATP and WTA players residing in or having easy travel access to Florida, UTR is sponsoring the 2020 (Re) Open Tour with UTR Pro Match series events. With more organized play occurring, many coaches from the recreational level all the way to the Pro Tour level have started to return to teaching in the capacity that they were at prior to the pandemic. Despite many coaches being able to return to their old jobs, there are still some coaches left without their former jobs and uncertain of where their next paycheck will come from. This is especially the case in today’s market where some tennis coaching employers are hesitant to hire on new staff until they are certain there is a demand. Even though the sport of tennis is slowly making a return, the impact of the pandemic on tennis coaches will continue to have effects for months and possibly years to come.
The future of tennis will not be the same as how many tennis enthusiasts used to know the sport prior to the pandemic. Tennis clubs are facing smaller class sizes to ensure proper social distancing, but whether or not the smaller class sizes will lead to more classes being held is unknown. Will clubs instead cut back on classes to help create time between drills and lessons to sanitize? How will clubs approach teaching children of young ages in red and orange ball classes, who may not understand the importance of staying away from others and keeping their hands to themselves? Will clubs completely cancel young kids' classes and if so, will there be a shift in the age that many children start learning tennis? So far, the answers to these questions are relatively unknown, and will require tennis participants from all sides to be patient and understanding as we discover the answers together. Despite some of these unanswered questions about the future of tennis, there are some answers that we do know. Tennis as we used to know it will not be the same tennis in the coming months and years. Coaches will be using different and new teaching methods to run lessons and drills in a safe and socially distanced manner. More recreational players have been and will continue to show up to local tennis courts to play, as tennis is one of the few organized sports that can currently be played.
Above all, coaches are even more passionate now than ever before to find creative ways to continue teaching the sport.
The shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic has inspired coaches to be creative with new ways of teaching tennis both on and off the court. The temporary halt in playing tennis on the courts showed coaches and players alike that tennis is more than just the number of hours spent playing on a court, but also about the mental and physical training performed off the court. The game of tennis may be rather limited for now, but the sport will return to a new and improved normal after the pandemic has passed. Coaches will continue to be innovative, players will continue to be excited to play, and fans are more eager than ever to return to the courts to watch their favorite players. The tennis community of coaches, athletes, and fans has much to look forward to as the sport of tennis transforms and grows in the coming months and years.
🎾 Written by Katelyn Zurn, guest contributor
[Katelyn is both a USPTA Recreational Teaching pro and active player with a true passion for the game. She is focused on U10 players and adult beginners.]