This past week Saint Paul Urban Tennis, Her Next Play, The Fort, InnerCity Tennis and USTA Northern partnered to create a Tennis and Leadership Camp for Middle School Girls. The camp was created with the goal of offering a week-long experience for middle school girls from under-represented communities to connect them with each other and female coach mentors.
Following the camp, the girls felt TWICE as confident that they have a voice in the tennis community.
The pilot program helped create a community of girls and provided encouragement and opportunities for them to advance in sport. The participants gained confidence in sharing their ideas and opinions, saw themselves represented in their female mentors, improved their tennis skills, met new people, and learned to practice leadership skills to establish a stronger sense of self.
100% of the girls said the speakers and coaches created a brave space at the camp!
On-court, the girls focused on improving a different tennis skill everyday. The coaches worked on different drills that helped them with their technique. Coaches also exposed the girls to different singles and doubles strategies to prepare them for match play. Off-court, the girls engaged in 45 minute workshops. The workshops were a safe space for them to learn, share, and connect with the facilitators and with each other. During lunchtime, a female athlete of color spoke about their experiences with athletics. The speakers opened up discussion for the girls to ask questions and gain insight about the tennis community.
Monday: Creating a Brave Space
Off-Court: Her Next Play facilitated a Creating a Brave Space workshop that set the expectations of the camp culture and introduced the idea of being a leader. The girls wrote down what the word “brave” meant to them and compared the skills a tennis player has with the skills a leader has.
“I learned to be brave and that I should be grateful for what I have.“
Lunch Speaker: Amanye Reynolds, Macalester tennis player Amanye spoke to the girls about her experience playing tennis through Saint Paul Urban Tennis, her high school career, and her journey to committing to Macalester where she will be playing this fall.
Tuesday: Identity and Intersectionality
Off-Court: Gustavus Adolphus Assistant Director of the Center for Inclusive Excellence, Janet Jennings, and Gustavus Adolphus tennis alum, Ally Baker, facilitated a workshop discussing Identity and Intersectionality. The girls learned about some main identities that make each person diverse: race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, mental health, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, mental/physical ability, and body type.
“I learned that some people have trouble accessing things that I have no problem accessing.“
Lunch Speakers: Helena Way, USTA Northern Junior Play Assistant Helena talked to the girls about her journey working in sports and the challenges she has faced as a female of color making her way in the sports industry. Nitooli Wilkins, UNC Greensboro tennis alum Nitooli talked about her tennis journey from when she first started as a child to her Division I college experience. She also discussed the importance of a good team culture and supporting one another.
Wednesday: Play Bold
On-Court: Serves & Doubles
Off-Court: Her Next Play facilitated a Play Bold workshop focusing on resilience, growth mindset, self talk, and leadership skills. The girls learned about failure, how to prepare for mistakes, and positive self-talk. They wrote their positive self-talk statements onto their water bottles so they could be reminded to stay positive the rest of the week!
“I learned to use my voice. Anything you say is valid.“
Thursday: SEE US
On-Court: Approaching the net
Off-Court: Her Next Play’s SEE US Program talked to the girls about underrepresentation in sports and being judged on appearance rather than ability. The girls learned about the lack of recognition female athletes encounter and the way in which women are represented in the media, specifically Black women. They shared their experiences of being judged on appearance rather than ability that sparked conversations about race and gender.
“I learned that only 4% of sports coverage goes to women’s sports.”
Lunch Speaker: Alexa Lehman, South High School Head Coach Alexa talked about her sports journey with the girls. She started off as an ice skater and found her love for tennis at a later age. She emphasized that anyone can play tennis regardless of the level they are at. Alexa also talked about what it’s like to be on a high school tennis team as many of the girls are going to be experiencing that transition soon.
Friday: Confident Communication Skills
On-Court: Doubles point play
Off-Court: Her Next Play facilitated a Confident Communication Skills workshop where the girls learned the impact of body language and speaking with authority. They participated in improv exercises focusing on nonverbal cues, listening cues, and confidence cues.
“I learned that playing sports is an important way to learn how to be a good leader.”
Play Bold Pitches
To end the Tennis and Leadership Camp for Middle School girls, the participants gave their Play Bold pitches. The pitches brought everything that was learned at the camp together. The girls stated why tennis is fun, how they play bold, how they lead, and their future aspirations– one of which was to become the president of the United States!
“I learned that playing a sport can really help with building more courage within yourself.”