Judy Murray is hoping to secure the future of women’s tennis in the UK with a new programme aimed specifically at encouraging young girls to play the sport.
The “Miss Hits” initiative has been developed by Great Britain’s Fed Cup captain and is designed as a feeder programme into to the Lawn Tennis Association’s Mini Tennis. Rather than using traditional techniques to teach tennis, Miss Hits uses dance, balloons and skipping ropes to develop tennis skills in a fun and friendly environment for girls between the ages of five to eight.
“The programme should ensure that the level of the girls entering Mini Tennis will be a whole lot higher and a whole lot bigger in terms of numbers,” said Murray at the launch in early July.
The 12-hour programme is divided into two six-week blocks and does not require the teacher to be a qualified tennis coach. As well as developing tennis skills, Miss Hits aims to appeal to young girls by creating a social environment that nurtures friendship over competition. By creating social groups, Murray hopes it will encourage girls to progress further in tennis.
“All the way through the pathway we do not have enough female coaches and they understand the needs of little girls much better than guys will,” she said.
“The programme has a double effect. One is to get more young girls trying tennis and having a great, fun experience that creates a social group, develops good co-ordination and where they will come out of this after two six-week blocks and go into Mini Tennis with a social group and with better co-ordination and understanding of what all the tennis strokes are.”
Miss Hits will be rolled out in autumn 2014, initially in London, Bristol, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Edinburgh, and will then be expanded next year.
LTA head of participation Rob Dearing said: “There are many more boys playing tennis than girls and we know we have to address this at a number of stages. The first is at entry level where we need to encourage more young girls to try the sport.
“To be successful at this stage tennis must complement the things they do in their everyday life. Miss Hits is a great way to make the sport more attractive to young girls and will address the things we know put them off the sport too early, such as too much individual competition or there not being enough girls of their own age playing the sport. We are working closely with Judy to develop the right workforce to deliver Miss-Hits and are looking forward to engaging more young girls in tennis through this exciting new programme.”
The Miss Hits app and website features information for parents and coaches as well as interactive characters, where a young girl’s experience can continue away from the activity, such as learning about scoring and competition.
“I play you, I win, I go forward,” explains Murray. “You learn about the game away from the lesson.”
Murray believes the reason why there are four boys to every girl at entry-level tennis is because girls are put off by factors such as weather and competitive environments.
“If you come out and get wet and cold then you may decide you don't like tennis, blaming the sport and not the weather,” says Murray, who recognises that young girls do not get the best experience alongside boys of the same age, who tend to be more competitive and more robust.
“Tennis, Friendship, Fun” is the strap line for the Miss Hits programme, which clearly reflects Murray’s passion and creativity, as well as her mission to see more females engaging with the sport at all levels, for young girls as well as women coaches.