Laura Robson and former world No.5 Daniela Hantuchova break down the barriers for young girls in tennis
• 3 MINUTE READ
The latest data shows that tennis participation amongst kids is on the rise – great news right?
But, when you drill down into the numbers, as kids start to get older, the gender split in players starts to widen quite significantly, with less girls continuing in the sport.
What’s more, we also know that once playing frequency increases – i.e. shifting from playing once a month to once a week – this gap becomes even greater.
So, what’s causing this growing divide amongst young players?
As girls reach their teenage years, they start to have competing interests and demands on their time, which can often take away from time playing sport. Insights show that during these teenage years gender stereotypes become more defined and they become increasingly self-aware, which can lead to a fall in confidence when it comes to playing sports.
Even in the professional game, challenges and barriers faced by women’s players only continue to develop throughout their careers – as former British No.1 Laura Robson and former world No.5 Daniela Hantuchova know all too well.
‘Weak’, ‘Too emotional’, ‘Afraid’ are just few of the many words and criticisms that thousands of female tennis stars face daily, often receiving critique for factors outside their actual play and performance.
“It makes you angry,’ Robson said at one of our recent coach training days for the new Prime Video LTA Youth Girls programme, designed specifically to get more girls playing and enjoying tennis.
“The women in tennis are some of the strongest people I’ve ever met. It’s about reminding yourself why you started and not caring what you look like on court, because it doesn’t matter.
“I was playing at a really tough time and before me as well, where people would just say things that you wouldn’t get away with these days. It’s about changing those stereotypes.”
If these negative perceptions and language exist at the top of the game then what does that say to young girls looking to get into the sport?
Until you can identify the problem, you don’t stand a chance of creating a solution. The question remains then, what can we do to encourage more young girls to pick up a racket and get involved in tennis?
Research suggests it ultimately comes down to several factors – creating the right environment for girls to enjoy the sport regularly, a focus on fun and developing skills, introducing competition in an appropriate way and the presence of female role models. All of which have been the focus in the design of our new all-girls programme, Prime Video LTA Youth Girls.
Launched in partnership with Prime Video off the back of Emma Raducanu’s historic win at the US Open in 2021, the programme will introduce thousands of girls across Great Britain to tennis, who will then hopefully want to stay playing and competing in the sport.
“It’s important for me to have more girls involved in tennis because I genuinely believe it is the most wonderful sport to be part of at any level,” said Hantuchova, reflecting on the potential impact of the programme.
“I think the less stress, less pressure there is, the more you can enjoy it, so step by step, they start to feel that competitiveness within themselves. You’re going to feel a little more comfortable (participating in Prime Video LTA Youth Girls sessions) and you’re going to be with a group of girls all going through the same issues.”
Following the recent coach training days in London, Bristol, Nottingham and Leeds, over 250 LTA Accredited coaches are now ready to run sessions for young girls in their communities.
“Having more female role models, both at an elite level, but also just female coaches involved in the game as well,” said Dr Stacey Edmonds, Reader in Sports Performance at Leeds Beckett University.
“To get girls involved in sport it’s got to be fun, it’s got to be enjoyable and it can’t just be about winning. I think if increasing participation is the goal, then girls only sessions can be really beneficial.”
Continuing on the theme of female role models, Alex Willis, Trustee at Greenhouse Sports and former Director of Communications at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, added, “It genuinely is that, if you can see it, you can be it. Women who are openly talking about having a sport that they love, having a career that they love and having a family that they love; (its) really powerful.”
Prime Video LTA Youth Girls
Find out more about Prime Video LTA Youth Girls and how you can get involved.