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Richardson Strengthening USPTA-USTA Florida Bond, and Florida Tennis

May 17, 2010 07:00 PM
 

Dave Richardson (right) and USTA Florida
volunteer Jeff Davis

by Rick Vach,
www.ustaflorida.com

Dave Richardson, the current regional vice president and past president of the USPTA (United States Professional Tennis Association) Florida Division, was recently confirmed as the newest member of the USTA Florida Board of Directors. The director of tennis at the Pelican Landing Tennis Center in Bonita Springs, Fla. for the past 16 years, Richardson has been instrumental in strengthening the relationship between the various tennis entities in Florida while creating opportunities for both teaching professionals and recreational players.

Florida USPTA growth, according to Richardson, runs neck-and-neck with the Southern division in being the largest USPTA division in the country. With the USPTA slogan "How can you afford NOT to be a member?" Richardson says, "I enjoy the fact that Doug Booth always mentions that he's a USPTA pro, and a certified card-carrying member of our organization. The opportunity to work with the USTA Florida staff has always been a pleasure and an opportunity to learn something."

Richardson sat down with USTA Florida to discuss tennis' booming popularity, the QuickStart Tennis movement, and the outlook for tennis in Florida, and across the U.S., over the next 5-10 years:

Q: How did it come together where the USPTA Florida Section attained representation on the USTA Florida Board?

A: In the last two years as I became president I started getting together with [USTA Florida Executive Director] Doug Booth and saying, 'Why don't you get together with the president of the USTA Florida Section and a number of your board members and meet at our Florida divisional convention, and have a meeting where we can talk about how the two organizations are working together. I think what we found was that we have always been very good social partners, and the USTA Florida Section and the USPTA Florida Division are very, very good partners and friends. But we wanted to strengthen the partnership, and it's very important that we understand that USTA Florida brings programs for USPTA pros, and they can administer those programs and bring them out there for the public.

We're all doing the same thing, we're all trying to grow tennis, we're all trying to make tennis the No. 1 leisure sport in the country. And the numbers are showing that we're all striving and moving in the right direction.

Q: Speaking of the current large recreational tennis participation numbers, how do you account for tennis' popularity?

A: I believe that something we have done well since 1994 when tennis had its big shock, that it could be on the way out [the Sports Illustrated magazine cover 'Is Tennis Dying?'], everyone [in the tennis industry] came together, and I think we need to stay on this bandwagon. I think USTA Florida does such a great job with their league offerings -- there are NTRP-level leagues, and if that doesn't work you can play a Combo League, and if that doesn't work then you can play in a Flex League. We're figuring out how to offer competitive tennis in some kind of environment to everybody, which might not be widely known to all the pros, and if I can help get that message from USTA Florida to the USPTA pros, that's going to help grow that part of tennis. That is our main theme, how to grow tennis.

In the first tennis boom I was a junior, then it really struck a chord of fear in 1994 when I was just maybe 6-7 years into the industry, and I thought, 'Holy cow, is it possible that the industry that I'm working in could die off?' Then you saw all this work and you wanted to step up and help, whether it was school programs back then that I did a lot of work with, or the NTRP so that if someone wanted to get into a league it wasn't going to be because they couldn't get qualified and verified. The TIA [Tennis Industry Association] came on board and at that time I was just becoming the district president in Lee County and we tried to take hold of tennis and make sure that we were there for every club. There was this understanding that there wasn't this competitive nature from my club to your club, it was just clubs coming together to make tennis better, whether it was running tournaments or running leagues or having luncheons or whatever it was in the tennis industry, we were going to help each other grow in our area.

Then you saw more [housing] subdivisions being built with tennis as a part of them, and then it got to the point where tennis wasn't just a part of them, but a major selling point. The realtors and the developers were saying 'I need to put tennis in because this game is growing and developing, and we need to be a part of it.' What we did then, and what we need to do now, is make sure this game stays very much in the forefront of those that are planning facilities and those that are planning parks. Tennis is just an integral part of the Pelican Landing community, and that's where we need to stay more focused and not just with the builders but with the club managers, and make sure they realize that country clubs are not just driven by golf, but successfully by good tennis programs that bring people into the neighborhood.

Q: What will be some of the keys to sustaining tennis growth in the next 5-10 years?

A: We're excited about having a dual pathway, for QuickStart [the new format for age 8-and-under and 10-and-under beginning players] which will take the children from elementary school to middle school where they can play their first competitive tennis [Middle School League or USTA Florida Jr. Team Tennis League] where they can play no-cut tennis, then they can move on to high school and play no-cut tennis, and then move on to college where they can play varsity tennis or in the USTA Tennis on Campus [club program]. And from there they just go into their adult life and the working world, and they've had this tennis involvement and will stay involved in it as an adult.

The other pathway that's exciting is this will this let us develop the next Andy Roddick. Will someone come out of QuickStart that goes on to middle school tennis that is then playing Jr. Team Tennis and sectional events that goes on to high school and college and to the pros as well? I think that would be really exciting if we could all be a part of that.

Another step is melding together all the CTAs (Community Tennis Associations) in all the regions with the USPTA districts. I think the USPTA pros and the CTAs should be working together, and I think too often they don't oppose each other, but they don't work together. Here in Ft. Myers we've taken an active role with the CTAs and re-introducing ourselves and saying, 'We want to be a part of you, we want to help. We can take what you've got and put it out front and move it forward.' We're real excited down here, and of course QuickStart is one of our big projects, and putting together a large regional QuickStart event here.

It's going to take two families, it's going to take that USTA family to put programs out there, and the USPTA family to come in behind it and say, 'OK, you keep creating it and we'll keep putting it in motion.

Q: People don't realize how much membership money goes back into the tennis community, such as with grants and donations to organizations to repair public courts -- do you see them making a difference in South Florida?

A: The thrilling things about these grants is you see courts that were in disarray that are fixed up, and they got fixed up because there were people playing on them. And it's important that they don't just fix them up -- they fix them up and put programs on them for people to use, to be introduced to tennis. I praise USTA Florida for their ability through the [Play Tennis] license plate campaign and the 'Share the Love' grant campaign for money to put back into tennis for years to come.

I think Florida tennis can be a role model for tennis across the country, and I hope this USPTA position that [USTA Florida President] Donn Davis came up with for the USTA Florida Board will be something that will happen in other USTA sections also. I think the more the two organizations work together, the stronger the game stays.

 

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