Where am I? Why where you are changes what you need! – Girls Tennis Network
Understanding the Participation Pathway
As part of the GTN Workshop we discuss the participation pathway. As we don’t like to badge children at a young age it’s something we are big believers in, and it’s particularity relevant to girls. We don’t use terms like performance or recreational. Instead we look at their commitment and love of the game as an indicator of their recommended program. The tennis journey is something that starts on the first day they decide to pick up a racquet and could end when old age stops them participating. In our journey we look at four stages, based more on commitment and motivation than on results or standard. We are interested in helping every player develop and grow through the game!
The first stage starts when the player picks up a tennis racket to see if they like the sport. The GTN principles of security, connection and individuality are key in the decision to continue or commit to further tennis. They are unlikely to feel confident enough to compete, instead the relationship with the coach and new friends may be the factors that encourage them to return. Programs are usually more successful in getting young players to sign up if they invite friends or groups of girls to come together. If you want to hook them here don’t over hype the competitive side but explain the coaching part and the social elements of the program.
In the second stage players commit to joining your program for a series of lessons, usually just once a week to start with. Congratulations! But you need to understand that they have not made a long term commitment. In a 2103 study in Sweden, even a popular sport like tennis lost nearly 90% of all players within 20 months; all this despite the use of modified equipment to make the sport easier to play. Having made a commitment to one lesson a week your role is to ensure that they become immersed in your program and cross the metaphorical bridge into the third, flyer stage. Here you need to ensure that your players are improving or they will lose motivation, so our principle of learning and development just became a lot more important. Fun based competitions will also be introduced here so you need to ensure that the security, connection and individuality principles continue to be a key focus.
As players see their own competence grow they will be more willing to make a greater commitment to tennis. They should be on court several times per week and also testing their learning through short team based competitions. As competition becomes a bigger part of the program, friends will not like to play against each other if there is any chance that it may damage their relationship. It is far better to have girls compete in teams against other girls. This will help to maintain the connection and keep the sense of security strong. The downtime of any competitive stress should be an increased focus on creativity and variety. It helps to keep things fresh and kids learn more when they are energised, so don’t forget the importance of creative play. Maintaining their love of the game and playing without being judged is crucial.
Producing performance players is not the main objective of GTN and we value a player who plays for life every bit as much as a player that goes on to play on the WTA tour. The irony of this statement is that a happy player is likely to make a greater commitment to the game and then who knows. At this final stage a player lives and breathes tennis. They are likely to want to be on court almost every day of the week, and the challenge may be to make sure that they don’t do too much. As we move towards the end of this age group we want to ensure that they still have all the six key needs met.
So now you have a basic idea of the participation pathway and how each one of the needs may play a bigger part as a girl takes her tennis journey. The key is always to understand that this is a life long journey, even if they dream of playing on the tour. The average age of a top 100 player on the WTA Tour is still around 25, so even if pro tennis is the ultimate ambition at 10 they still have 15 years to go. Make sure that parents and coaches really understand this and let this youngster continue to grow.