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Barnes hosts WTT Junior Nationals, tennis legend PDF Print E-mail
San Diego Communities - Point Loma/OB
Written by DAVE KENSLER, writing for   
Friday, 06 August 2010 09:23

Tennis legend Billie Jean King makes a point during the WTT Junior Nationals at Barnes Tennis Center last week. King is advocating the team aspect of tennis to a younger set of children to entice them into the sport and change the mindset for many youth that tennis is only an individual sport. PHOTO BY DAVE KENSLER I THE BEACON

Barnes hosts WTT Junior Nationals, tennis legend

Ask almost anyone to choose whether tennis is a team or individual sport and the answer will almost unanimously be “individual.”

Which, according to tennis legend Billie Jean King, is part of the challenge in growing tennis and, particularly, getting young kids playing the sport.

“I saw a study recently where kids first identified with soccer at around age six, but for tennis it doesn’t happen until age 15,” said King, who was in San Diego last week for the 15th annual World Team Tennis (WTT) Junior Nationals held at the Barnes Tennis Center in Point Loma. “Why is there such a discrepancy?” King asked. “I believe it’s because tennis is not offered as a team sport at a young age.”

King said the concept of tennis being a team sport should begin at its most basic level and be addressed from many different angles.

“Just like a kid can sign up to play on a football or softball or baseball team, they should be able to signup to play on a tennis team,” King said. “Often when I ask kids to name their top three favorite sports, rarely is tennis on anyone’s list. What is on their lists are team sports.”

Even terminology commonly used with regard to tennis instruction needs to be altered, according to King.

“In every sport we use the word ‘coach’ for the person giving the instruction,” King said. “In tennis, the word ‘pro’ or ‘professional” is used. Why? What does that mean to kids? Let’s change it to ‘tennis coach’ to reflect what is used in other sports.”

She said she believes the competitive format for most single-elimination tournaments further complicates the challenges of keeping people interested in tennis and limits players socializing with, and getting to know, each other.

“Whether you watch a professional tournament or play in one at your club, 50 percent of the competitors are gone after just the first round,” said King. “After the second round, 75 percent are out. Is that any fun?”

Speaking of the professional tour, King said she would like to see kids have the same opportunities to identify with their favorite players as they do for team sports.

“Tennis should have jerseys for kids to buy with names of the professionals on the back of them,” King said. “When you go to a professional tennis tournament, the players should have their names on the back of their clothing.”

Many of these ideas or similar ones are incorporated into the WTT Junior Nationals. There are 16 coed teams with participants ages 14-18 from around the United States. They play a non-elimination draw format. Each team has three boys and three girls. A match consists of two boys’ and girls’ singles; one each of boy’ and girls’ doubles and two of mixed doubles.

“Almost every ‘thank you’ note or letter I receive from kids after the event mentions how much fun it was to be part of a tennis team and get to know not only their team members but the opponents as well,” King said.

Among her many accomplishments in tennis, King co-founded World Team Tennis in 1974, which operates today at many different levels from juniors to the professional tour. In 2009, she was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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