Time and time again we hear about the statistic that girls are dropping out of tennis at an alarming rate, yet despite the reports, there have been few changes implemented to combat this issue – until now.
Enter Judy Murray and Laura Middleton, who have created a program called Miss-Hits, where five to eight-year-old girls can participate in a fun and unique introductory tennis program that aims to teach tennis basics in a way that is enticing for young girls.
Middleton, who began a career as a Bank Manager and later transitioned to a full-time career in tennis as a coach and member of the renowned Tuscan Tennis Holidays team, recalls a moment at the Australian Open where she and Murray realized the need for a program like Miss-Hits.
“Judy was the Captain of the Great Britain Fed Cup team, and she realized there were not many girls coming up through the ranks. Looking at that further, she found out that there was a 4:1 ratio of boys to girls playing entry level tennis,” said Middleton. “She then decided we needed to find a way to make a difference and get more females playing tennis. Over a glass of wine at the Australian Open, we decided to do something about it and Miss-Hits was born.”
Through the Miss-Hits program, Murray and Middleton have set two main goals – to get more young girls playing tennis and to increase the female workforce within the sport.
“Everything girls don’t tend to like about tennis is quite avoidable, so we decided to focus on all the things that little girls like,” explained Middleton. “They like parties, playing with their friends, playing games, cartoon characters and dancing. We put that all together and wrapped it up into the Miss-Hits program. Every time you come to a Miss-Hits session, it’s like coming to a party. You start with a dance, you play fun games, do fun tennis activities, and then finish with another game at the end.”
While the Miss-Hits is focused on excitement and fun, the young girls are still learning the fundamentals behind the sport. The program teaches the strokes through characters named Faith Forehand and Bella Backhand, allowing the children to learn about the game without even realizing it.
The program has also been designed in a simple, nontechnical way so that anyone from coaches to moms can deliver the lessons. “This increases the female workforce at the same time because if women get involved in Miss-Hits, they think, ‘This is fun. We can do this,’” Middleton explained.
Since the program’s inception four years ago, Murray and Middleton have received countless testimonials on the effectiveness of Miss-Hits in keeping young girls interested in tennis. “Many of the girls who have come through Miss-Hits have gone on to play Mini Tennis. They’re now still playing tennis because they had such a good experience. They knew a little bit about tennis when they started to play Mini Tennis, so it was easier for them and they were more confident,” said Middleton.
Not only are the young girls who complete Miss-Hits more confident in their abilities, but the women delivering the program are as well. “A lot of the coaches have kept in touch with us, and we get a lot of nice comments and stories about how they’re so glad they’ve done Miss Hits because it’s led them to different opportunities,” Middleton added.
Moving forward, Middleton hopes that the lessons learned through the Miss-Hits program will stick with young girls as they move up the ranks into competitive tennis. “We’re all about encouraging them to play competitively, but make it fun. A lot of girls get to a certain age and when they start tournaments, it becomes too much pressure and they don’t want to do it anymore. If we make it fun and make it team-oriented, then we can try to keep them involved,” she said.
In the future, Murray and Middleton plan to expand the Miss-Hits program globally and on an elevated stage. With the help of the PTR’s network, they strive to train clinicians to deliver the courses more frequently in order to get more young girls and women involved. The pair is also in talks with the WTA for a potential partnership down the line.
By working with many young girls who have filtered through the Miss-Hits program, Middleton has adopted a unique outlook on how to alter the perception that tennis is unwelcoming to females.
“Make it fun, get to know the athlete themselves, and see what they want to get out of the sport,” she urged. “Learn to fulfil what your players want, while also helping them to improve and become the best that they can possibly be without putting pressure on them.”