A new initiative launched by Tennis Australia is aiming to encourage more women to get involved in the administration of the sport.
Facilitated by key figures such as former pro Casey Dellacqua, the Women Leaders in Tennis program was launched in 2022 and has already seen participants graduate in every state or territory – more than 200 Australia-wide.
Dellacqua, now working as the Women and Girls Lead at Tennis NSW while juggling television commentary in her playing retirement, is helping to lead the program after being part of the gender equality task force at Tennis Australia a couple of years ago.
Speaking with the ABC, she said the task force uncovered a range of areas that were lacking female representation and one of them was the lop-sided gender ratios in community administration; women only make up 26 per cent of local club presidents around the country.
“I’ve been in tennis pretty much since I could walk because my mum and nan were both volunteers at my local club in WA … they were heavily engaged in junior sport,” Dellacqua said.
“My love for tennis grew because of their involvement and so I think having more female role models around for the next generation of girls coming through is vital.
“Mums play a key role taking their kids to sport, so they deserve a seat at the table when it comes to the decision-making, and that’s why we’re trying to provide the Women Leaders in Tennis program participants with skills that will give them the confidence to take on these positions.”
The four-month-long program involves both face-to-face workshops and at-home online learning, taking participants through three stages – learning self, leading others and leading change – before they finish with a self-assigned action project.
The project requires each participant to identify a key issue at their club and to problem-solve ways in which they can rectify the situation, ensuring they can channel their new-found knowledge into real-life practice.
“Seeing all these women from different clubs around the place get up and present their ideas for their projects, and to have the confidence to do that in front of a room of people, while being supported by other women – that’s a real highlight,” Dellacqua said.
One of the graduates from the NSW program is Mary Baker, who has held the role as either club president or vice president of North West Sydney Tennis for roughly 14 years.
Although she already occupies a senior position within her local tennis community and has established leadership qualities during the running of her commercial property business, Baker decided to put her name down to brush up on her skills.
“Tennis committees have traditionally been driven by men, and from my small exposure around the place, that seems to be true not just for our club previously, but many others,” Baker said.
“These sort of courses are important because I don’t know that a lot of our female volunteers would have the confidence to step into the bigger positions, especially if they haven’t run a business or held a managerial position at a company before.”
Baker played tennis until her early teens but dropped off after that, only returning to the sport in her thirties once her children took an interest.
Now semi-retired, she plays twice a week and also plays Tennis NSW seniors, travelling around the state in order to play tournaments in the country regions and socialise.
“I’ve got four kids and my second son was particularly keen on tennis, he dragged around my old racquet and begged me to take him to the courts and the rest became history,” Baker said.
“Tennis is great because you can play for a very long time and at all different levels, I’ve got grandchildren, five and eight years old that I can play with and that’s special in the sense that it connects all ages and abilities.”
Drawing on her personal experience of falling out of love with tennis as a teenager ended up becoming an important component to her action project in the Women Leaders in Tennis program.
As Baker has noticed a similar drop-off at North West Sydney Tennis and says part of the reason girls leave is that sometimes the sport can be too individually focused.
“The common similarity tends to be that social aspect … For me, there wasn’t a social space attached to tennis then and if you didn’t want to go on playing at a competitive level with all the strict commitments, there was no place where you could just join in when you felt like it.
“There wasn’t even a dedicated place at the club to congregate alongside girls and boys your own age if you wanted to just have some social interaction.
“Our clubhouse hasn’t been upgraded since the 1970s and it takes 100 of us squished in or more comfortably 50 to 60 people, but we have 1,000 members, so it really limits our ability to add a couple of table tennis boards or to create a social space for young people to hang out.
“We’re currently in the process of seeking help from our local council and the state sporting body to try and fundraise money and put plans in place to build a new two-storey clubhouse.”
“I believe modern facilities will not only help us look more professional, but that it will give us the room to create these social spaces, that will hopefully give the girls an opportunity to make friends and get them to stick around so that we can get them into coaching and leadership positions.”
Beyond the leadership and administrative skills acquired in the program, it has also become a place for women to connect with like-minded people at other clubs.
Tennis Australia have held a bunch of networking events for graduates throughout the summer, encouraging them to attend the big international events in their state.
Those interested in completing the Women Leaders in Tennis program can register their interest via the Tennis Australia website.