This is an opinion piece written by Jo Karaitiana the Director of Tennis at Box Hill Senior Secondary College.
With the current rise of female tennis due to the likes of Ash Barty inspiring the next generation of Australian female tennis players, we address some reason as to why teenage girls drop out of tennis and sport. Once we understand the ‘why’ we can then address the ‘how’ and ‘what’ we can do to prevent this drop off.
Below are 7 reasons as to why teenage girls drop out of tennis/sport and what we can do about it.
1) Females prefer cooperation, team-work and connectedness over competition.
- Females often require a connectedness within their training and team environments and if this is not achieved they will often seek it through different avenues.
- Coaches should build time into a training program for creating enhanced social interactions.
- Providing opportunities for girls to choose their activity partners will provide them with some confidence within a group environment.
- It is essential to create a safe training environment for all participants. Anti-social and/or negative behaviour within the group needs to be identified early and not tolerated.
2) Girls are less tolerant of poor behaviour or bad sportsmanship than boys.
- Toxic environments, poor behaviour from other players, parents and/or coaches will cause girls to distance themselves from the negative environment. This behavior often occurs during competitions and tournaments and can be at any level. This results in an unenjoyable experience and will take the fun out of competing.
- You must create, insist and reinforce a respectful training environment with good sportsmanship from all participants involved.
3) Most teenage girls become very insecure and face a “confidence crisis” (decrease of self esteem when compared to their male counterparts).
- A positive environment is needed that does not tolerate demeaning, verbal taunting of mistakes made by the players or accusations of cheating. It is important that the positive values and principals created promote a supportive environment that rewards effort and hard work over the necessity to win.
4) Girls are often their own worst critics and are more likely to take criticism to heart.
- Boys commonly deflect criticism whereas girls will often internalise it, analyze it and replay it for days/weeks.
- Criticism of girls in front of their peers is embarrassing and will often have a negative impact on other girls within the group.
- Players need to be taught that mistakes are okay and that it is a part of tennis and personal development. This can be highlighted by providing players with professional tennis player stats and point percentages (Eg Top 100 in the world win 51% of all points played).
5) Negative coaching experiences.
- Toxic environments caused by negative coach behaviour can create hurtful and harmful experiences that often results in a player dropping out of the sport to resolve the situation and avoid further damage to their self-esteem.
- All players should be treated equally and have the same opportunities to further develop their skills. Girls can often identify if a player is provided with different levels of attention or care and will disengage with you as a coach.
- Not all girls can be the next Ash Barty and as a result the goal should be to keep them improving/developing, enjoying their on-court experiences and to continue playing into adulthood (or ideally for life!).
6) High expectations and pressure put on players by their parents
- A part of our role as coaches is to educate parents in ways that they can support their child through effective communication to promote self-confidence and an increased awareness of health and wellbeing.
- Discussions with parents about what to say to their children needs to occur with advice provided if required. The “positive feedback sandwich” model is a great starting point where they can offer a positive comment, a constructive (not critical) comments followed by another positive comment.
- Make sure parents are aware of their body language when girls are competing as they will frequently look to a parent or coach for support and assurance during matches. If a parent or coach is reacting negatively or looking frustrated it can cause anxiety and will more than likely have a negative impact on the player and their performance.
7) Girls need to be placed in similar age groups
- Regardless of skill level, girls need to be placed with peers around the same age. If girls are placed with peers significantly older or younger you run the risk of them not developing a connection or friendship with other players in their group.
- Most girls will not enjoy being in an all male group or squad and will more than likely leave the group.