The stadiums that will soon host the likes of Serena Williams and Roger Federer in the U.S. Open opened their courts to a smaller set of players on Saturday. Children and their families flocked to Queens to take part in the 18th annual Arthur Ashe Kids Day, where they heard First Lady Michelle Obama encourage them to stay active by starting to play tennis.
Even though Obama grew up in a neighborhood without tennis courts — “quite frankly, I don’t think I knew a single person when I was young who even knew how to play tennis,” she said — this may not be the case for this generation.
Many of the kids in the audience may have a better chance at learning how to play tennis because of the United States Tennis Association’s continued volunteer efforts — the organization hopes to teach 300,000 young people tennis in after school programs, and they’ve pledged to build 5,000 tennis courts, train 15,000 instructors, and donate thousands of dollars in equipment.
“Because kids like you who are going to get involved in tennis, you guys are going to be way ahead of me, “ Obama said. “I just wish that I had had some of these opportunities when I was your age, because if I had started playing earlier, I’d be a whole lot better than I am today,” she added, to collective laughter from the crowd.
Obama said not only does she play tennis, she’s encouraged her daughters to do so, because “it’s a great way to stay healthy, to stay fit.”
Both Obama and pro tennis player Nicholas Monroe, who won the Swedish Open playing doubles this year and will compete this week, emphasized that tennis is a great sport to pick up since you can play it at all ages. In an interview with Everyday Health, Monroe called it a “sport for a lifetime.” Obama added “it’s a good game to get your heart racing and pumping no matter how old you are.”
Including an active sport like tennis can help keep kids more fit, but it also teaches valuable life lessons, Obama said. “You’re going to learn things like hard work, team work, discipline,” she said, which are lessons that apply both in the court and in the classroom.
Success in either realm comes after much practice and continued effort, Obama said. “No one waved a magic wand over these guys and turned them into champions,” Obama said of the tennis players, including Serena Williams, who stood behind her on stage. “They turned themselves into champions by putting in the effort, by exercising and focusing every day, working out, eating right, practicing their skills over and over and over again.”
Being active, hardworking and healthy are a large part of what Obama is promoting in her Let’s Move campaign, which seeks to help children grow up healthy.
Obesity prevalence amongst kids and teens has nearly tripled since 1980, spurring Obama to launch the initiative, approved by Congress in 2010. Nearly one in three children and adolescents are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The program, which celebrated its third anniversary in February, has adjusted the calorie, fruit and vegetable portions, and whole grain requirements in school lunches, and has offered plans and funding to increase the amount of physical activity in schools. The New England Journal of Medicine reported that extreme childhood obesity had slightly decreased from 2003-2010, and in February, Obama celebrated with the state of Mississippi, which has lowered its obesity rate in public elementary school students by 13 percent since 2007.
Current number-one tennis player Serena Williams, who introduced the First Lady, endorsed the Let’s Move campaign, noting that “in order to be the best, you have to stay really fit.”
Monroe, who has been playing tennis since age four, agreed. “I think it’s great Michelle was able to come, and kids should take her words to heart,” Monroe said.
Around 22,000 kids and families attended the 18th annual Arthur Ashe Kids Day on Saturday, which is part of the kick off to the U.S. Open, which runs from August 26 to September 9. Children had the opportunity to take place in various active games on the grounds of the U.S. Open before hearing Obama speak and seeing several musical acts, including Ariana Granda, Austine Mahone, Lawson and Cazzette.