I took into consideration all the things little girls tend to like, like music, dancing, animated characters, plush and glitter, and we sprinkled that around the skill building activities and games. to create a friendly environment for girls. My goal was to develop friendship groups and coordination skills and for girls to learn tennis through animated characters such as Bella Backhand and Valentina Volley. As for preparing them to enter a mini tennis program with confidence, skill and friends, that’s great.
And because it is not technical, it can be delivered by women and teenage girls who are not necessarily tennis coaches, but who enjoy working with children and understanding the world according to the girls. The Lawn Tennis Association offers Miss-Hits through its female workforce program, She Rallies, and one of its projects is with Girl Guiding UK, which involves training Guides and Rangers to broadcast content to Brownies and Rainbows.
As Gareth Southgate noted last week, after a conversation with his daughter, there is an urgent need for more women in sport. Even in tennis, where the gender distribution is fairly even in terms of players and fans, we still lag behind in terms of female staff. We are in desperate need of a significant investment in a larger female workforce in all sports.
Imagine being the only girl in a training group, going through puberty, and all the coaches are men who expect you to be on the same training regimen as boys. It happens. If coaches don’t understand all of the physical and emotional changes a girl goes through during her teenage years, they won’t be able to create the optimal program or get the most out of her. They should also understand and be comfortable talking about the effects of the menstrual cycle on performance. Girls are much less likely to open up to male coaches about personal issues.
Fortunately, there has been some great work going on in this space by The Well HQ and Dr Georgie Bruinvels. But we need coaches, teachers, coach educators, sports scientists and medical teams to capture this information and become part of their job. From elite coaches to physical education teachers, we need to make it happen for girls now.
Coaching qualifications for each sport should include a course that focuses on the differences between working with boys and girls. Whether physically or emotionally, you need to be prepared to adapt your behavior, content, and communication to get the most out of whoever is in front of you. Coaching is still a very masculine field, so I would like the governing bodies to prioritize workshops on how to work effectively with women and girls.
Emma’s triumph showed what it is possible for young girls to achieve through hard work, determination and great support. There is talent, for sure, but it needs to be spotted and then nurtured in the right way, by the right people in the right environments. There is no doubt that Emma will attract a lot more women and girls to tennis – and we have to be prepared to make it fun for them.