Tennis magazine’s most recent issue includes an article on tennis and nutrition. My home country of the United States, for all of its good qualities, has several alarming trends in regards to health and fitness. It is my belief that most of these trends can be reversed by improving the standard US diet (something like 60% of the average US calorie consumption comes from white flour, white sugar and oil – the components of a doughnut). I will repeat that the greatest need is for dietary improvements, but increasing the activity level of the average US citizen would add to the advantages of any dietary changes. Enter Tennis.
Tennis is a Game for Life
Growing up, I lived near a public park with three courts. On Sundays, I would play against a friend of mine, my father and his father played and often a couple of guys who appeared to be in their 70’s or 80’s would be playing as well. The image of two adolescents, two adults and two senior citizens all playing tennis in the same place should say it all. Today, 25 years later my father still plays with his old sparring partner as well as new opponents.
We all have anecdotal stories about seeing multiple generations out on the court. The other good piece of news is that one’s skill level in tennis can always improve. Therefore, as agility, speed and reflexes decline with age better technique can help a player maintain relatively the same level of play for a long period of time. Throw, in the world of doubles in which a player only has to cover about 60% of the court one covers in singles, and a player can play tennis as late into life as he or she wishes.
Still not Convinced?
Researchers have demonstrated that tennis players have greater bone health and a lower risk for heart disease than non-players. People who played tennis 3 hours per week over a period of 20 years cut their risk of death from any cause in half! Roughly 50% of the US population dies from heart disease. 70% of the US population is overweight. 18% of the US economy is dedicated to health care costs. Tennis is no panacea for these disturbing trends. However, tennis unlike so many other sports is a viable option for staying active during all phases of life. It is quite difficult to put together games for sports that require ten to twenty participants to be effective even among young people (how many gym rats become last second subs for college intramural games because neither team sends enough players?). Tennis requires two, three* or four people, and if a wall is present, tennis just requires one person for a good workout involving serves, volleys and groundstrokes.
10 and Under Tennis is a great way to get younger people playing tennis and not succumbing to frustration. Still, fears about tennis being an elitist and expensive sport turn many people away. Many websites exist to help people find parks, clubs, opponents and/or instruction. I think the USTA can do much more still to make tennis as accessible as possible. As a sport that has a long record of helping keep people active, the governing bodies of tennis in the US need to push tennis as a sport for life. Not only can a person play tennis for a long time, but by playing tennis a person can live longer and have a higher quality of life. Push that and tennis will have a bright future within the US regardless of how many US players are in the top 50.
PS – Links for Finding Tennis Courts, Players and Instruction
* – What is the appropriate name for playing tennis two on one (Australian Doubles?, Canadian Doubles? Or is this one of those geographic linguistic oddities?) From (grain of salt) Wikipedia:
Another, however informal, tennis format is called Canadian doubles. This involves three players, with one person playing a doubles team. The single player gets to utilize the alleys normally reserved only for a doubles team. Conversely, the doubles team does not use the alleys when executing a shot. The scoring is the same as a regular game. This format is not sanctioned by any official body.
“Australian doubles”, another informal and unsanctioned form of tennis, is played with similar rules to the Canadian doubles style, only in this version, players rotate court position after each game. As such, each player plays doubles and singles over the course of a match, with the singles player always serving. Scoring styles vary, but one popular method is to assign a value of 2 points to each game, with the server taking both points if he or she holds serve and the doubles team each taking one if they break serve.