Title IX: Do Girls Rule the Court?
June 23 marks the anniversary of Title IX, which recognized gender equity in education as a civil right, and had a significant impact on women's sports. Tennis is a sport prolific in high-profile trailblazers for equity in the game - from Billie Jean King and The Original 9 to Venus Williams and many up and comers now on the courts - the sport has made notable progress.
Tennis also is not without strong women role models and leaders, on the grandest and most visible stages, that inspire young girls everyday to pick up a tennis racquet for the first time - or hundredth time - and get on the court. Yet with all of this being true and the many steps forward that have been taken, there is a stark reality when it comes to youth sports for girls at the grassroots and community level - everything is not all strawberries and cream.
While there has been progress, much work is to be done and needs to be done to continue to cultivate equity for girls and women in sports, especially at the youth community level and in marginalized and low- to moderate-income communities. Research shows that girls are less likely to get involved and stay involved in sports compared to boys – causing them to miss out on the many significant benefits sports provide. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, boys receive 1.13 million more sport opportunities per year than girls – with only one-third of girls age 6-12 participating in sports on a regular basis.
Moreover, girls of color have the least opportunities to participate in sports or physical activity of any demographic group of youth in the United States.
USTA Mid-Atlantic is committed to finding and implementing solutions to remove barriers to equity and increase access to tennis and the community, character, and well-being benefits it delivers. We have created and are piloting Girls Rule the Court™, a free program for girls aged 7-13 to promote health, wellness, and teamwork while building self-esteem through tennis.
USTA Mid-Atlantic has begun testing Girls Rule the Court in a pilot phase this year in Baltimore, Md., and the Sterling community of Loudoun County, Va., and will soon expand to Charlottesville, Va. and Louisa County, Va.
Led by female mentors and organizers, participants create meaningful and beneficial connections while engaging in important dialogue about teamwork, empowerment, and the benefits of moving your body. Girls find access and connection to the lifelong sport of tennis while growing their technical, tactical, and performance skills. Girls Rule the Court (GRTC) is open to all girls but focuses on serving girls of color and those from underrepresented communities. Within the program, USTA Mid-Atlantic is using a research tool, Hello Insight, to measure pre- and post-program social-emotional learning growth among participants and the effectiveness of the program on positive youth development.
Alexandra de Guzman, USPTA, PTR and founder of Second Serve Tennis is involved with Girls Rule the Court and will coach and mentor girls in Charlottesville. Alex started playing tennis at age 6, and went on to play Division I tennis at The College of William and Mary where the team was ranked as high as No. 8 in the nation. Through tennis Alex found career opportunities, eventually leading her to start her own tennis business with the aim to bring access to tennis and incorporate life skills through coaching.
When asked about being involved in Girls Rule the Court, Alex expressed how synergistic the program was with Second Serve and it was the right opportunity and the right time.
“I was introduced to this program at a time when Second Serve Tennis was expanding and wanted to get more involved with the USTA. The vision of Second Serve Tennis aligns well with Girls Rule the Court in that we want to give easier access to tennis, coach and teach life skills, and create an authentic community from all backgrounds.”
Reflecting on Title IX and what has transpired in 50 years, it is hard not to recognize it as a game changer for women’s sports, opening the doors for many players and many sports to grow. USTA Mid-Atlantic recognizes the significance of Girls Rule the Court to push forward in a new way to achieve equity for girls and women in sport.
As we think about 50 years with Title IX, and ultimately the next 50 years, it is increasingly important to provide accessible tennis programming for girls in the Mid-Atlantic so even more progress can be made. It is also important to provide opportunities for women to coach tennis and mentor to help young girls visualize their future and potential they can achieve.
Likewise, de Guzman reflects on Title IX and believes that it is essential to simply ingrain in girls and normalize that they should always feel welcome on the tennis courts.
“It gives them the confidence they deserve to believe “I belong,” “I’m included,” and “I am capable,”” de Guzman shared. And to the girls and women considering participating in Girls Rule the Court and tennis, Alex offers this, “You deserve to try this program out because you never know what doors may open from participating.”
The spring pilot programs in Baltimore and Sterling ran successfully with 36 girls. Free summer sessions will begin July 26 in Baltimore focusing on reaching rising first and second grade girls. All equipment is provided and the sessions meet twice a week in Druid Hill Park. Registration is being accepted now. USTA Mid-Atlantic is also looking for volunteers to mentor participants in GRTC.
Taking into account the progress that has been made and the steps being taken to push ahead intentionally for women and girls in tennis in the Mid-Atlantic region, USTA Mid-Atlantic looks forward to continuing the pilot of Girls Rule the Court in 2022. The vision for the program is to grow Girls Rule the Court and expand into more areas to increase access to tennis and the benefits of the sport to even more girls.
USTA Mid-Atlantic is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to promoting tennis and its physical, social, and emotional health benefits. Learn about our impact in the Section and how USTA Mid-Atlantic creates community, character, and well-being. Make an impact beyond the net and donate today.