For the second time this week I was at the playground with my two sons observing some typically fascinating interaction between young children. Two girls were playing happily using all the equipment and experimenting with strength and balance as well as cooperating socially playing “shops” together. The mood soon changed as two boys (not mine) charged into the playground, throwing their bikes down and loudly announcing their arrival.
The two girls immediately retreated. They got their soft toys and sat on the rocking horses observing the boys suspiciously. When it comes to interaction between boys and girls it is almost always the same, by being so energetic the boys often have an (unintended) effect of causing the girls to withdraw.
These observations are typical – research shows that in mixed gender classrooms girls tend to remove themselves from the environment when boys use their “competitive one up man ship” in class. While girls remain strong in skills like language; boys dominate math’s, science and sports by making it an aggressive game.
This research is interesting, but most interesting is that when skills like math’s, science and sport are taught in a girls only environment, the performance gap quickly closes. That’s right! If we create the right environment, these fields that have traditionally been dominated by men, we can create a really wonderful and positive result for girls.
The implications for our Girls Tennis Network are profound.
One of the great characteristics of tennis is that it can be played by people of all ages and genders – it is not uncommon to see a grandfather playing with her granddaughter. However, while a girl is developing her skill and confidence in tennis, a girls only environment for much of the time is optimal.
Work Hard to Create the Right Environment
I was guilty for many years of not working hard enough to create girls only classes; and of mixing girls and boys in competitions. Now I always ask a new enrolment if they have a friend who might want to join also. We work extra hard to make the phone calls to make sure there are enough girls to make an exciting draw in all our competitions; and to recommend girls move to appropriate lessons where their skills are matched with other girls.
Exceptions to the Rule
Each person is an individual and I still have many mixed gender classes and even two classes with only 1 girl in the lesson. Through communicating with the girls and the parents I have learned these girls have older brothers and love playing tennis with the boys (they are quite skilled and competitive for their age), preferring it to playing with their friends who they will play with at school and socially.
Tennis can be a great environment for girls and boys to get along. Speak to any lifelong tennis lover and you will usually find this to be one of the wonderful attractions of the sport. Create the opportunity for boys and girls to socialize in your program by:-
- Running boys and girls events side by side
- Having a pizza or BBQ night after events
- Introducing mixed doubles opportunities as girls become more skillful (and boys more mature).
I may not have a balanced view as my wife and many good female friends are tennis players who are often more competitive than me, but I think tennis is a great sport for girls and if we set a great foundation of skill and confidence, mixed doubles a wonderful part of our sport.
If you want to find out more about delivering great programs for girls in tennis visit the Girls Tennis Network>>>
Rufus Keown is a member of the e9 Professional Development Team
He is Director of the Victorian Tennis Academy, in Melbourne Australia and a Course Facilitator for Tennis Australia.