With an ever-increasing obesity epidemic in the U.S., along with 80 million "inactive" Americans, one tennis program—Cardio Tennis—is helping to battle these issues head-on. Developed just nine years ago, Cardio Tennis already has more than 1.54 million participants, and it continues to grow.
Cardio Tennis was created in 2005 by the Tennis Industry Association (TIA) in conjunction with the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA). Since Cardio Tennis was first measured in 2008 by the Physical Activity Council's Participation Study, the program has seen rapid growth in its participant base, up 85% from 2008 to 2013. The PAC study is the single largest independent sports participation research project in the nation, tracking more than 120 different sports and activities. PAC data determined that 80 million Americans did not participate in any activity or sport in 2013.
Last year, Cardio Tennis participation grew 7% from 2012 and now has more participants than the sports of squash, field hockey and rugby, according to the PAC study.
“Cardio Tennis was created to address the growing fitness trend, and it truly appeals to a broad spectrum of consumers,” says Jolyn de Boer, executive director of the TIA, which manages the Cardio Tennis program. “It brings both avid tennis players to the court as well as non-tennis players who are looking to simply get a great workout.”
While Cardio Tennis focuses on fitness, it also has a social component and it helps to improve tennis skills. There is constant motion—players hit a lot of tennis balls in both fast-moving, fun drills and in games-based play against others. One of the newest and most popular Cardio Tennis games is “triples,” which has three against three (one player at the net, two at the baseline). Participants are encouraged to use heart-rate monitors to work out and play safely in their optimum heart-rate zone.
“The growth of Cardio Tennis in its first nine years has been phenomenal,” says Michele Krause, the TIA’s Cardio Tennis manager. “Consumer interest in fun, group, social fitness is at an all-time high and Cardio Tennis hits all the right notes. It’s a great crossover activity that not only allows you to get an amazing workout, but to also get into tennis, and to improve your tennis. And it’s great for all ages and ability levels.”
Cardio Tennis also may be offered as part of the industry-wide “Try Tennis for Free” campaign, being driven through the website PlayTennis.com. Try Tennis for Free, which takes place throughout the month of May, offers free tennis sessions for beginner or returning tennis players. The free offer is up to the tennis facility or teaching professional, so it could include Cardio Tennis, a lesson, clinic or other session. PlayTennis.com’s “tennis concierge” will help consumers easily find a location in their area with a free tennis offer.
Demand for Cardio Tennis from the tennis provider network—including tennis teaching professionals, coaches, tennis facilities, and park & rec departments) continues to grow as well. In 2014 alone, hundreds of certified tennis and fitness professionals have completed Cardio Tennis training courses at sites across the country. The Cardio Tennis training courses help train professionals in the proper methods of Cardio Tennis delivery, focusing on the importance of monitoring heart rate, working with players of different fitness and tennis ability levels, and creating a healthy Cardio Tennis curriculum.
"Like so many other well-established tennis pros, I was certain the ‘fast-feed’ clinics we'd been doing for years qualified as ‘Cardio Tennis.’ But the Cardio Tennis Training Course opened my eyes to the benefits of the program for both the participants and our pro staff, and also from a return-on-investment perspective," says Steve Contardi, director of tennis at The Club at Harper's Point in Cincinnati. “Now with our staff properly licensed, our members are the winners. I’m certain we’ll be able to attract more participants, especially fitness enthusiasts, to tennis.”
The program is also seeing an uptick in the number of professionals from the fitness arena taking part in training courses, particularly with the introduction of the TRX Cardio Tennis program in late 2012.
"Cardio Tennis and TRX Cardio Tennis aren't just about tennis," says Krause. “They are true fitness activities that help people improve their cardiovascular and muscular strength. Cardio Tennis is one of the few tennis programs in the world to be accredited by major health and fitness organizations like the National Academy of Sports Medicine.”
In addition, Cardio Tennis continues to grow in popularity internationally. Three of the four major “Grand Slam” nations—the U.S. United Kingdom, and Australia—all utilize the program as a key effort to increase tennis participation and bring new people into the game.
"Tennis and fitness have universal appeal," says de Boer. "We've seen such a great response to Cardio Tennis on a global scale with organizations – including governing bodies such as the LTA in the UK and Tennis Australia latching onto it as a way to increase participation in their countries."
To date, more than 30 countries are either affiliate Cardio Tennis partners, or have "authorized" International Cardio Tennis Providers.
"We're thrilled to see the positive results the program is yielding not only in the U.S., but also around the world," de Boer adds. "We expect Cardio Tennis to continue its growth, continue to grow in popularity, and become an even more sophisticated program in terms of health and fitness and its ability to bring new people to the sport of tennis."