I recently spent a weekend at the U.S. Tennis Association's Community Tennis Development Workshop. It's a three-day session devoted to growing the sport at the grassroots level. And while much of the focus was on the USTA's 10-and-under tennis initiative, another program, Tennis On Campus, deserves some of the spotlight. TOC offers students who aren't on their school's varsity team the opportunity to play competitive tennis.
The program is coed and team-based. It takes its lead from other student-run organizations, such as campus newspapers. Students set up their own practices, schedules and matches, keep track of their own scores, and so on. It's run through the school's recreation department, and does its own fundraising and public relations. (Information on how the program works is available here.)
It works, too: More than 500 schools now have TOC teams, and more than 30,000 students are participating. USTA helps students set up their programs and start playing. League, series, sectional and national tournaments are offered for TOC teams.
We already know that upon making the transition from high school to college, too many student-athletes stop being athletes and start being just plain students - and sedentary ones at that. This is one way to combat that and to encourage continued activity. And while intramurals are great, many only run in spring and fall. This type of program goes on year-round, encouraging a full-time healthy lifestyle.
If all goes according to the USTA's plans, TOC participants will continue playing after graduation, and become regular recreational players in their local club and park programs. It's a program where the goal isn't so much to produce champions as it is to produce players.
TOC is great, but it's not the only opportunity to get non-varsity players involved in sports on a continuing basis. The model can be applied to volleyball, water polo, anything. Want to find players? Reach out to students who tried out for a sport but didn't make it, or played in high school but didn't participate once they arrived at college. Your participants are out there waiting for you, and the opportunity to develop lifelong healthy habits is waiting for them.