Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cardio Tennis, Anyone? ; an 'Elite' Sport Tries to Pump Up Participation by Appealing to a Workout-Mad America

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cardio Tennis, Anyone? ; an 'Elite' Sport Tries to Pump Up Participation by Appealing to a Workout-Mad America

Article excerpt

George Conlin is hustling. With his white cap pulled down low, the tennis pro instructs his class in a booming voice: "OK! Now, jumping jacks to the net!"

Eleven participants stretched across two tennis courts at the Longfellow Club in Wayland, Mass., obediently lurch forward - sans rackets. Next come lunges, then crossovers, then trunk twists. And that's just the warm-up. Soon the class grabs their rackets and lunge for balls hit at them rapid-fire, two in a row, before lapping the courts, slowing down just enough to tiptoe through rope ladders lining the perimeter on the floor. In the background, "Born in the USA" and "Play That Funky Music" beat from a boombox.

This is "cardio tennis," a program launched nationwide last year to try to woo gym rats to local courts and give seasoned players a way to improve endurance and foot speed.

Cardio tennis is one of several efforts by the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and the Tennis Industry Association (TIA) to revitalize participation. Other efforts include renovating public courts, offering more free youth programs, and marketing tennis as a lifelong sport for mind and body. It may be paying off. Tennis has seen an uptick in equipment sales in the past two years, a positive trend for an industry where participation has slid 13 percent over the past two decades.

"For tennis [participation] ... to be approaching what it was in the '80s is pretty good," says Mike May, a spokesman for the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association (SGMA). "There are more things tugging at our time now.... It's one thing to watch tennis on TV, but it's another thing to find the time to play tennis."

The growth of fitness clubs and the recent popularity of extreme sports is giving tennis a run for its money. It seems whacking a ball over a net doesn't fulfill the fantasy of rugged individuality quite the same as, say, plunging down a gnarled hillside on a mountain bike.

Nor does an hour on the court translate into working up a sweat for the average tennis player, who spends more time retrieving wayward tennis balls than facing off with an opponent. And for an American public convinced that obesity is an epidemic, burning calories is now the end-all of exercise. SGMA numbers bear this out: Over the past two decades, activities that emphasize a cardiovascular workout have soared. The number of people using treadmills, for example, is up 992 percent.

Where some in the tennis industry saw a crisis, Jim Baugh, president of the TIA, saw opportunity. Why not develop a program that focuses on staying in motion instead of winning points?

That approach wasn't embraced at first by those who prefer silent courts punctuated only by the thud of balls and the occasional grunt.

"You definitely have purists who want to keep things traditional," says Mr. Baugh. "That's true for any activity. But you've got the people who really see the light and see the numbers with fitness activities. …

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