Emma is an international speaker and consultant providing impactful coach education around the world. She has been in performance tennis coaching for more than 20 years, specializing in improving the knowledge, skills and behavior of coaches and players. She has coached on the junior and senior tours, and represented Australia at numerous world championships. This Tennis Australia High Performance coach, Hot Shots Mentor and Learning Facilitator, specializes in mindset conditioning programs to maximize performance for beginning players through to WTA tour players and coaches. Emma’s mission is to empower more female players and coaches in our industry and to inspire, improve and impact the communication, coordination and confidence of people around the world.
If you are reading this, chances are you and I have something in common - tennis is a sport we love to play, watch and coach. It is a great way to keep active and stay healthy, with the added bonus that the game can be played across the ages, from 7 to 77 year olds. While tennis is a predominantly gender equal sport when it comes to prize money and opportunities to play, the female dropout rate on the cusp of adolescence is four to one compared to male tennis players. Therefore one of the great challenges we face is how to keep girls connected to tennis and retain them in the game. It is important to acknowledge that this trend is not isolated to tennis, but can be found across many sports. I’m sure all of us would agree that playing sport as a teenager has many benefits physically, emotionally and socially, and improves overall well being.
The research examining participation in sport by girls and women found that:
These points clearly outline what’s important to girls. So, I decided to take action and Girl Power Camps were born. I wanted to take 20 years of coaching experience, as well as all of the concepts that were important to the girls, and roll out a different kind of tennis experience with the aim of attracting and keeping girls in tennis to the point that it becomes a chosen lifelong sport.
What are some of the secrets to success in the Girl Power Camps? To answer this question, keep in mind the three core principles of Engage, Empower and Develop.
Finally, every girl learns how to build a positive and resilient mindset through the strategies experienced and the visualization that allows her to walk away with an anchor (physical trigger, like touching the dampener on her racquet) and positive affirmations (such as, “I can do it!”).
What do some of the girls really think about the Girl Power Camps?
If you can provide an experience for the girls that is aligned with what is important to them, especially on the cusp of and during the adolescent years, then your Girl Power Camps will speak for themselves. I encourage you to try some of the activities suggested in this article to create your own Girl Power Camp. At the very least, girls will keep coming back for more, and who knows where their tennis journey might lead?
Writer’s Note: I am excited to say that after growing momentum and high demand from the success of the first Girl Power Camp early in 2016, we have reached more than 1,000 players, 500 coaches, 14 presentations and four countries. For information, email me at email@example.com
The start of the camp sets the scene and engages the players by focusing on the ‘software’ skills and then moving onto the court to develop their ‘hardware’ skills. These skills are nourished by empowering their strengths to help build their self-esteem and ultimately develop their tennis games. The players are challenged in a supportive and fun environment.
The girls are encouraged to bring their best effort to the table for the greater good of the entire group. Coaches are instructed to give feedback that encourages their strengths, and allows them to explore solutions in the areas in which they need to develop. In other words, feedback is a combination of direct and indirect communication where the players are motivated to get
From the onset, players are welcomed into a casual and friendly environment. Imagine girls looking through tennis magazines cutting out pictures that resonate with them to decorate the cover of their camp diaries while chatting with new friends. In this moment, they are usually having their first experience creating a vision board. Vision boards are about words, illustrations and photographs that reflect aspects of the tennis game that they would like to acquire. Vision boards help create possibility and sets the scene for the players to introduce themselves and share something from their boards with the other camp participants.
At the beginning of the camp, there are several activities designed to focus on the development of ‘software’ skills by the players.
These ‘software’ activities let the players know that the coach cares about their life beyond the tennis courts. This famous quote
highlights an important concept when working with girls.
People don’t care how much you know until
they know how much you care. -Theodore Roosevelt
How true is that statement, especially when you are working with girls? If your players know that you care and understand the why behind your learning environment, they will give you their heart and soul in effort, and will work toward a sense of mastery of skill and game play.
From the moment the players step onto the court, they are encouraged to be athletic, feel strong and work toward a healthy attitude for a positive self-image. In addition, many of the activities are done in pairs with specific communication challenges, which ultimately help to build potential friendships. For example, the players are invited to find out what they have in common with their partner. Dance routines are also a core part of the athletic development, as tennis is a rhythm sport and the players have the opportunity to choose their favorite song. ‘The Volley Dance’ is a simple routine that anyone can learn and teach. The athletic development and coordination activities are layered in throughout the camp and female sporting role models are used to discuss the benefits of having a healthy mind, body and attitude.
Athletic development activities can include:
The camp then moves into skill acquisition tasks with the focus on empowering the girls to think decisively and feel when they are on balance. For example:
Coaches are encouraged to reinforce messages that highlight what the players are doing well. For example, “Great work Sarah, I really like the way you kept your head still during the contact phase.” Finally, competition is introduced in a partnership scenario where the focus is on the achievement of completing the tasks using principles of gamification.
As mentioned earlier, girls prefer to play with their friends in team environments. Therefore the players are divided into teams strategically and asked to create their own unique team names. Team format provides the basis for many different competitive activities that in turn, provides a foundation for internal and external motivation. It is also important to have female staff and
female coaches involved in your camp who serve as indirect role models, showing these aspiring young players that tennis provides many kinds of career opportunities.
One of the primary themes throughout the camp is understanding different game styles. This is how we activate the ‘hardware’ part of the camp. Players learn about the distinct tactics unique to each game style. This is achieved through the concept of ‘Role Play Games’ (RPG). The RPG characters used in our camp include:
Learning about these characters in team based competitive environments helps a girl develop her game for the future.
After the players have an opportunity to experience the different RPG characters, they are invited to reflect on questions like:
Layered throughout the camp are motivational quotes and memory jingles that the girls enjoy reciting, such as this one used for the return of serve.
Move right, hit left.
Move left, hit right.
These jingles are designed to permeate each girl’s subconscious and can
easily be recalled during match play