Smashing Glass Ceilings, One Volley at a Time

This article was published in 2017.

Tennis is one of the few sports in which the earning potential is the same for male and female players. Thanks to the Original Nine, a group of women who broke away from the men’s tour in 1970 in order to take a stand for equal pay, women in tennis top the charts among the highest-earning female athletes according to Forbes Magazine

USTA Mid-Atlantic creates a community that fosters social connections and uplifts neighborhoods through tennis. Tennis helps people and communities of the Mid-Atlantic grow stronger, healthier, and more connected. It is a lifetime sport that can be played by anyone, anywhere, and is not limited based on gender. 

Here in the Section, it is our priority to facilitate connection through tennis for ALL, especially youth girls. Young female players in the Mid-Atlantic are participating in tournaments and Junior Team Tennis programs at half the rate of boys the same age. What’s more, according to Project Play’s 2016 report, only one in four youth sport coaches were women, meaning that there is only a 25 percent chance that a young girl entering a sport has a female role model.

With this in mind, USTA Mid-Atlantic emphasizes the importance of bridging the gap between females and sports, especially tennis. We start by exploring the long-term benefits that are associated with participating in sports in general.

  1. Research shows that as little of four hours of exercise a week may reduce a teenage girl’s risk of breast cancer by up to 60 percent.
  2. Participating in tennis builds confidence and leadership skills. Compared to girls who do not play sports, girls who play sports report having higher levels of self-esteem and confidence as well as a more positive body image.
  3. Sports teaches teamwork, goal-setting, the pursuit of excellence in performance and other achievement-oriented behavior – attributes everyone needs to be successful.

To help young girls and women realize the benefits of sport, USTA Mid-Atlantic launched a pilot program geared toward creating empowering spaces where both girls and women can learn and grow with confidence. The program, Girls Rule the CourtSM (GRTC), is a three-part initiative that promotes and develops the growth of female participation in tennis. In addition to providing a comfortable space for young girls to learn the sport, each portion of the model addresses different barriers preventing the growth of female participation, particularly around leadership roles. Last year, GRTC reached 100 young girls through six pilot programs across the Section.

Girls Rule the Court consists of:

  1. Power Play Series
    Studies have shown that girls participate in more vigorous physical activity when generally separated from boys. Using the For Girls by Girls methodology, created by USTA Mid-Atlantic, the Power Play series provides a comfortable space for young girls to learn, enjoy, and fall in love with tennis. Each Power Play also includes a breakout session that addresses positive body image and self-esteem to help further build confidence and leadership skills that are important both on and off the court.
  2. Coach Mentor Pipeline
    To help grow the number of female leaders involved in community sports initiatives, GRTC fosters mentorship opportunities between certified teaching professionals, community leaders and girls ages 13-18. Girls who have gone through the Power Play series are encouraged to volunteer as peer mentors for young girls just starting in the program to further promote a continuing circle of mentorship opportunities and roles for female athletes. Through the GRTC program, volunteers aim to fuse bonds through the commonality of womanhood. Both women and girls have access to USTA coaches trainings that supplement their roles as mentors and leaders.
  3. Conversation Series
    Continuing the conversation and including the community is an impetus for larger change. The GRTC Conversation Series advances the GRTC’S value to empower the entire tennis community through hosting trainings and events geared toward combating negative social trends and the marginalization of women in sport. The series is open to caregivers, high school and college tennis players, tennis coaches or instructors, community leaders and influencers, program implementers, and anyone else interested in breaking down barriers to female participation in sport.

Existing sports culture has already pushed girls out of sport even before they are able to realize the benefits of sports participation. USTA Mid-Atlantic is changing that culture by inspiring organizations to host GRTC programs of their own! Through the creation of a GRTC grant program, USTA Mid-Atlantic is providing financial support for nonprofit or public organizations seeking to implement the GRTC program and create sports havens in their own communities. Are you ready to steer the conversation and make changes? The deadline for the GRTC grant program is March 31, 2017.