There are many challenges in British women’s tennis, despite the recent successes of our top players. There are so few girls taking up the sport, and many who do drop out for various reasons along the way.
The youngest girls are forced to compete in tournaments against boys due to a lack of fellow female competitors, and those who access coaching often do so surrounded by boys with male coaches. It’s no surprise that tennis is unappealing to so many young girls.
For those girls who do persevere, they progress into a system that funds more boys than girls and provides more competitive opportunities for boys than girls. Not only is the participation problem not addressed, but it is exasperated by policies such as these. Once they reach the age of 16-18, the drop out is staggering.
GB Tennis Girls works hard to highlight these issues, campaign for change, and, where possible, run specific initiatives to tackle them head on.
Given the experiences of the key volunteers within GBTG, as former top British players and current top British coaches, the team has a unique position to be able to identify, and campaign to change, inequalities or obstacles faced by current girls and women. As a lobbying body there have been many successes, for example campaigning to close the gap in the disparity between girls and boys in the LTA matrix funding system, and highlighting the problems for British girls with a Nationals qualifying draw half the size of the boys event. Every inequality has a chain reaction of events and sentiments that follow it, and these are almost certainly contributors to the problems of low self-esteem and high dropout rates in girls tennis. For more details on these campaigns, please go to the Why We’re Needed page.
Fundraising for Players and Initiatives
GBTG has managed to raise thousands of pounds for various players and schemes over the years. These include schemes that address objective funding, grass roots tennis and a female coaches initiative, among others.
GBTG took the initiative to recruit tennis legend Martina Navratilova’s support. Martina generously volunteered her time to observe and select a young British player who was awarded a coaching grant to pursue her tennis aspirations.
Many individual players who have received sponsorships and grants have achieved their highest rankings with GBTG support.
Providing an Open Forum
The GBTG message board was the first open-forum message board for tennis enthusiasts in the UK. Throughout the years that the GB Tennis Girls site has been operational, the message board has been a hub for tennis people to get together to chat through issues and find solutions to problems. It is used by players, current and past, parents, fans, and even those working in the tennis industry to keep up to date with results and share ideas.
CASE STUDY 1: The National Championships Smaller Draw Sizes for Girls
It is a sad fact of British tennis that there are between two to four times more boys playing than girls. In fact, recruiting and maintaining girls in tennis should be an LTA priority in its own right. Concessions are made at many levels to account for fewer girls playing, which amount to institutionalising inequality, rather than tackling the problem.
In 2009 GBTG raised an issue with the LTA about the relative draw sizes at The National Championships for the U16 & U18 age groups where the girls’ draw sizes were half those of the boys.
In defence of the different draw sizes the LTA responded that for girls the National Championships, “is aimed at players at U16 and U18 who are regularly competing in ITF international events of any grade and/or top level domestic competition.”
They also stated that the smaller draw size “reflects the significantly lower number of female players competing regularly at national level.”
They used the number of U16 players competing in the U18 ITF events in the UK as a justification for the draw size of U16 and U18 nationals for girls. When we highlighted the fact that girls who were rated higher than their male peers were being rejected at Nationals, which didn’t seem fair, they claimed that ratings for boys and girls are not comparable.
After considerable research, GBTG responded by asking the LTA to consider the following points:
- The age that the LTA have cut the draw size for girls, thereby limiting opportunities to compete, is the very age that all sports see a drop out in female participation.
- Nationals acceptance is a benchmark for players and this reduction in draw size, where 32 less places are available for girls than boys, further encourages this drop out. After years of being accepted throughout the age groups with equal draw sizes to boys, girls are suddenly rejected causing demotivation and fuelling dropout.
- Competing internationally is expensive, and whilst this is the same for girls and boys, boys get more matrix funding to pay those high costs.
- The more matrix funding opportunities for boys at all ages makes it easier for boys to travel, to continue competing and therefore maintain strong numbers and interest throughout their junior careers.
- The smaller draw size for girls in 2009 meant that in the original U16s entry lists, higher rated girls (5.2) were not accepted where lower rated boys (6.1) were. The ratings system is well established and is the same for both sexes. A player’s rating is representative of the number of quality matches won, and it is no easier for girls than boys to win such matches. Calling male and female ratings incomparable is nonsense.
GBTG also demonstrated that, as well as the points above, there were inaccuracies in the facts that underpinned the LTA position:
1. There were, in fact, so many British girls with an U16 Tennis Europe ranking that if they all entered nationals there would not be enough space for them all to play.
1. If every British girl with an U18 ITF ranking entered the U18 nationals, there would not be enough space for them all to play.
2. From the admittedly smaller base of girls playing there were actually more girls than boys with an U18 ITF ranking.
Further, whilst there were some byes in the girls qualifying draws in previous ITFs, GBTG demonstrated that conflicting schedules were often to blame. For example, two of the four ITFs cited by the LTA as having many byes were in fact scheduled alongside $10,000 ladies events. The other two only had one bye between them!
The LTA reviewed the evidence and changed the draw sizes to equal those of the boys.
CASE STUDY 2: Unequal Matrix Funding
GBTG analysed the 2009 LTA Matrix funding document, and, once again, it was sadly rife with inequalities. Basically, far more boys were being funded than girls, which amounted to hundreds of thousands of pounds more public money being spent on boys than girls.
The LTA defence of this inequality was this: having spent considerable time and resources analysing the world’s top 100 female players (from some point in 2007), the data demonstrates that to be on track to make the WTA top 100 a player should have a high ITF U18 ranking when they are under 16.
This claim is based on 58% of those top 100 players having an ITF (junior) ranking of top 50 whilst still under 16 years of age.
Further, the LTA stated, there is evidence that girls mature on average two years earlier than boys and are more able and better equipped to compete with older players at a younger age.
The average age that those top 100 players achieved their first WTA ranking was 15.8 years, and it came on in the mid 700s.
GBTG asked the LTA to reconsider this policy of unequal funding, and highlighted the following points:
- The players studied had a much better chance of gaining an early ranking compared to those playing today due to a ranking rule change. Between 10 to 14 years ago, when those players were getting their first rankings, this was achieved simply from being in the first round main draw of a $10,000 event or a first round qualifying of any challenger event. You didn’t have to win a match to get a ranking in those days.
- Many of the 17 and 18 year girls who are not being funded by the LTA matrix system have qualified for satellites and won rounds in challenger qualifying events, although on today’s system this will count for nothing as the current method of achieving a ranking is to qualify and win a round in main draw three times to get a ranking. Men of course only have to achieve this feat once.
- Regarding the 58% statistic, it is ludicrous to base our national funding structure on a figure of just over half. This essentially means that 42% of those players studied would not have been given LTA support if they were British, and yet they achieved top 100 rankings thereby proving they would have been worthy recipients. How many British girls are missing out on support because they are late developers?
- The top 100 surveyed was without British players, therefore there was no British context to achieving success. In other countries there are so many variables, which weren’t considered, for example: different methods of schooling, tournament structure, weather, cultural position of females, support mechanisms for women and girls, personnel involved in the production of female players, role models for young girls, etc. The study should have been based on the highest achieving British players, several of whom were on the verge of WTA top 100 at the time of the research.
- Forming an unequal funding platform from the age of 11 is grossly unfair. This sets the trend for girls being treated unequally in British tennis, despite the then CEO publicly backing the campaign for equal prize money.
- Table 1.3 below demonstrates that Great Britain needs more girls to still be competing aged 22-26 to have a chance of getting more girls in the top 100.
GBTG also stated:
- The current Matrix structure does not address the correct issues. Britain has often produce players who who were on track, achieving top 20 junior world rankings, but unfortunately those players did not transition as expected to the top of the senior game. It is this transition that has historically been the problem in British tennis.
- GBTG were delighted that the then new LTA personnel, unlike their predecessors, continued the support of the older players. GBTG are certain that this decision is what has led to Anne making it to the top 50, and correctly predicted that two or three more would break into the world’s top 100 that year.
- Right from the moment when players start to compete on a full court with yellow balls it was assumed that twice as many boys as girls will be on track and therefore worthy of funding. This policy immediately makes the playing field uneven. This trend continues all the way through with boys getting more recognition and funding than girls. 50 girls and 106 boys receiving funding – how can that be labelled equality?
The LTA reviewed the evidence, and in the next year (2010-2011) there were some improvements. However, there is still work to be done in this area. See here for the summary of the matrix funding since 2009.
For example: rather than fund sixteen U17 boys based on their domestic ranking and nogirls – the LTA gave no domestic ranking funding for either. They have continued to do this each year since. So this is at least equal which is better.
The youngest players on the matrix, the under 8 to under 10 age groups, continued to be based on PPP (player performance profile) ratings gained at talent ID days. However, the LTA also switched the funding criteria for under 11 and Under 12 age groups to PPP status rather than rankings as well. Due to the change it is unclear how many boys and girls were subsequently funded. The reason given for the change was to allow players to develop without the pressure of competitive pressures, which sounds good, but it does mean that British Tennis is moving away from objective funding – which surely is a dangerous move.
This trend has continued with subjective PPP funding moving up to Under 13s in 2011-12 and under 14s in 2012-13.
The current 2013-14 matrix starts out assessing the top 20 boys and girls at under 11 and under 12. Unfortunately, however, it is again automatically assumed that less girls will be worthy in the next two age groups. Only 12 girls compared to 16 boys are invited to a talent ID day to be considered for funding in the under 13s and in the under 14s it’s just 8 girls and 12 boys. This guarantees less girls than boys will be track (regardless of how the actual players are developing) and actively encourages the drop out that we continue to experience with the girls.
The disparity of funding based on domestic rankings for the under 14s – 16s has shrunk but there is still not equality. For the sake of just a handful players it seems remiss to not have parity. So in the under 15s the top 4 GB ranked are funded at “B” status but 12 boys and 10 girls are funded at “C” status. In the under 16s, just C status counts, where they fund 8 boys and 6 girls.
In summary, GBTG continue to call upon the LTA to provide equality at every level of the game, just like it backed equality in the prize money issue at Wimbledon. Once equality has been restored, and girls are not subliminally counted as worth less than boys, then the LTA and all other interested parties, can begin to address the real battles of growing female participation and halting drop out.
The focus for GB Tennis Girls for 2013-2015 is RETENTION. With fundraising incomes relatively low, GBTG will concentrate on a few select areas around the country to run schemes which aim to service those who have already chosen tennis, from young girls through to women.
1) Increasing the number of female coaches
Need: Our research suggests that 80% of tennis coaches are male, and anecdotal evidence suggests that it is the perceived playing standard that often prevents girls progressing to a Level 3 coach.
a. Raise funds to provide free and discounted L1 and L2 coaching courses to young women involved in sport, who in return will work with for free with young girls who have already taken up tennis.
b. In addition there will also be financial support for 17-25 year olds to move on and take their L3 support in the shape of funding and support to get their playing standard up to the necessary levels with a similar return to be provided.
2) Additional free coaching for young girls
Need: Our in-club research suggests that girls playing twice a week within a club program are less likely to leave the game. Cost and time are the biggest factors in stopping people transitioning from once to twice a week.
From developing these two types of coaches we will be addressing the gender gap in tennis coaching but also providing free additional tennis sessions to young girls where cost may be the barrier preventing them from playing more and therefore staying in the game.
3) Girls-only mini tennis tournaments
Need: The majority of mini tennis tournaments in the UK have girls competing against boys, and research in other countries has shown this to contribute towards female dropout.
Perhaps more of an issue is that the girls are outnumbered considerably by boys at these tournaments. Given the benefits of the social side of tournaments, and the desire to increase the player base at this age, girls-only tournaments are essential.
A GBTG Mini Tennis Slam Series will be created where girls will compete against girls, with a view to getting more female tennis players transitioning to yellow ball tennis from mini tennis and to help address the gender gap of participation.
There are, of course, many issues that are currently under the microscope and in need of addressing, but resources are limited. If you share the GBTG passion for girls’ and women’s tennis, as well as equality, then please visit the Get Involved page to see if you can help.