Tennis Ireland has been chosen to receive a grant under the Reward and Recognition Awards scheme of the ITF’s Advantage All programme relating to the association’s efforts to bring about gender equality. Chris Bowers reports.
It’s often the little things that tell you you’re on the right track.
“I was thinking about coming back to tennis,” said a participant in Tennis Ireland’s Celebrating Women in Sport Day, “but I wasn’t sure. Today proved a great way to try it, I really enjoyed it and concluded it’s time to lace up the shoes – I’m going to get back into tennis!”
Such sentiments in response to several initiatives by the Irish national governing body for tennis explain why TI’s gender equality programme has been highly praised under the ITF’s Advantage All initiative aimed at breaking down barriers in tennis. The Women in Sport initiative is just one of several tags for work aimed at making tennis into a truly equal sport across the north-west European country with a population of just five million.
“Lack of confidence is the kind of obstacle many women need to overcome to increase their activity in tennis, so it’s rewarding when we can help them break through. We’ve been encouraging more women to get their coaching qualification, and we successfully ran two female-only courses – 57 out of 97 coaching qualifications awarded in 2021-22 were for women.”
It was a similar story for Roisín Moore, a member of the Ennis club in the west of Ireland, who responded to Tennis Ireland’s “Women’s Try Tennis” initiative. This is a beginner participation programme, launched in 2021, which encourages women to try out tennis and join as active members of our affiliated clubs. Roisín says, “The confidence and knowledge I have gained from participating in the She Leads programme inspired me to get involved in assisting a very successful Try Tennis for women in my club in Ennis, attracting 24 women who had never picked up a racquet previously.”
The number of participants in the Women’s Try Tennis initiative rose in 2022 from 158 to 290.
The importance of role models is not lost on Tennis Ireland, but there are very few standout names in Irish tennis. So in 2022 TI organised “Celebrating Women in Sport Day”, in which two international visually impaired female players gave a demonstration and coaching clinic on how someone without full eyesight can play tennis to a high level. TI has also worked with Badminton Ireland, Table Tennis Ireland, and Irish Squash to create a Racquet Sport Coaches Leadership Programme, launched in 2021, that includes a female network of coaches for racquet sports.
Asked what the most important lesson is that TI has learned in working towards gender equality, Grainne O’Neill replies, “To have a clear action plan. The best intentions are no good if you don’t know what you’re going to do, have clear timeframes with accountability for sticking to them, and have the resources – particularly financial – to carry it all out.”
The $3000 TI is receiving as a result of its commendation under Advantage All will be used primarily to fund a mentoring programme for female coaches. “Currently 67% of coaches in Ireland are male,” says O’Neill, “, that’s two men for every woman, so it’s important that those women we have are nurtured, so we can work towards genuine equality.”