Female Tennis Players : Inspiring The Next Generation

Figures released by Tennis Wales from the LTA Sports Tracker for Wales showed that more than 50,000 women played tennis in Wales at one point in the last 12 months, up from 36,000 in 2019 when the current ‘opening tennis up’ strategy began.


Elsewhere, the Sports Wales School Sports Survey found that 33% of girls played tennis in the last academic year, compared to 38% of boys and 34% of pupils identifying in the ‘other’ category.

Meanwhile, Tennis Wales has provided £6000 in bursaries to support women to access coach education and in 2023 43% of Level-1 candidates have been women. In addition, the percentage of female accredited coaches stands at 24% up from a start point of 19%, with a target 30%.

Female participation and involvement in coaching in Wales is heading very much in the right direction, but there is always more that can be done, which is why the Prime Video LTA Youth Girls programme, launched towards the end of last year, is so important.

The programme, is designed to inspire the next generation of girls into tennis by recruiting new or lapsed girls on to a six-week, high-standard girl-only group coaching course.

The initiative, which is 100% funded by the reinvestment of Prime Video’s US Open broadcast fees from the historic 2021 final and is supported by Emma Raducanu, has been a huge success in Wales, with 226 girls across 10 venues taking part at last count.

We spoke to three of the Welsh coaches involved in the programme, Kate Merrick in Wrexham, Mark Thomas in Bridgend, and Rob Cunningham in Penarth and Barry, to get the lowdown on why the programme is so special, and successful.

Before any participants were recruited onto the scheme the coaches received training.

Mark commented: “The training day at Bristol gave a perspective of how girls could react to tasks and drills differently to boys. It gave us several ideas about approaching the girl only sessions and areas to focus on.”

Kate said: “The training Day in Nottingham was very useful”, adding that the support afterwards was also excellent with a Facebook group where she could ask questions about anything she was unsure of.

Following training the coaches reached out to the community using a variety of tools, including social media, flyers, and contacting local schools, brownies and rainbow groups, as well as family friends of club members. The result saw the three coaches recruit 117 girls onto the programme between them.

The positive impact of the initiative is there for all to see.

Mark said: “To see over 50 new girls take up tennis has been amazing. We are so pleased to see over 80% of them continue playing through the follow-on course and Team challenge event.

“Friday Night is Girls Night” @BridgendTennisClub is our tagline. We only have girls coaching groups on Fridays.”

Mark added that an additional, unexpected, highlight of the scheme is that a number of the parents have signed up to our adult coaching programme following the completion of the Prime Girls courses, adding: “To see the whole family engaged in tennis is fantastic.”

Kate commented: “The most satisfying part of this whole course is just seeing so many girls on court at once having fun and smiling.

“I have played tennis since I was five-years-old and I was always playing with boys. It’s just so lovely to see all the girls coming together and playing and having fun and seeing all the parents interacting.

“It was great on the first day leading the girls, none of whom had ever been in Wrexham Tennis Centre down to the courts. Seeing all the girls in their kit all looking the same was brilliant as well.

“The only way I can sum this up is the initiative has been so worth, having 35 girls who have never played before enjoying the sport.

Like Mark, Kate noted great parent interaction, adding: “A real highlight was the last session of the introduction when I got parents and the council on court and involved with the kids playing games. The kids enjoyed it so much and were smiling the whole time.”

Rob echoed Kate’s thoughts, saying how it was brilliant to see how much the girls were enjoying themselves. He said: “It’s been great running a range of girl only sessions for different ages. They all love it and are making friends along the way.”

Asked why they thought the programme is worth its weight in gold,Mark noted it creates a place where the girls can feel comfortable playing.

He said: “For me, the Prime Video LTA Youth Girls initiative is more important for the 11-18 year olds. Girls of this age are far more conscious and nervous when playing sport. To have the girls only sessions helps to create a far more relaxed environment for them to start their journey.

“It creates an environment specific to girls. It’s their time!!!”

Rob also emphasised the particular value of the programme for girls aged 11 and older. He said: “What is good is that this initiative is attracting older girls into the game, not just the younger ones. I think it is really important to give new opportunities to teens and pre-teens as that is the age where many kids drop out of sport.”

He added: “I think it’s important to create a judgement-free environment for girls to come and play sport.

“We are currently midway through the follow-on sessions and improvement seen by all of the players is massive.”

Kate, meanwhile, believes the message the scheme sends is important. She said: “It says girls are allowed to play tennis. I think a lot of girls don’t think this because its boy dominated. We have had some girls with different disabilities taking part and it shows tennis is for anyone and everyone.”

The proof of any initiative is its sustainability and Prime Video LTA Youth Girls has more than proved its worth. In Wrexham 31 of the 35 girls who took part have signed up for the follow-on programme, while in Penarth and Barry the number was 20 from 30, and in Bridgend 45 of 52 have signed up.

Tennis Wales Board member Hannah Ward said: “The Prime Video LTA Youth Girls programme is an amazing initiative. Tennis has always had a near equal split of female and male players, and we are proud of the number of women and girls playing the sport in Wales.

“However, we can never rest on our laurels and this scheme helps bring new girls into tennis who have not played the game before and tailors the approach to address gaps identified. It does so as well in a fun and safe environment and allows them to benefit from all the physical and mental benefits that we know playing sport brings.

The programme has been an amazing success and, with it due to continue into 2024, many more girls in Wales are set to be introduced to tennis.