Championing equality at Royal Park Tennis Club

Carol Saffer

Community sporting clubs throughout the state once more have the opportunity to encourage and create activity opportunities for women and girls with support from the Victorian Government.

Minister for Community Sport Ros Spence recently opened applications for 2021-22 Change Our Game Community Activation Grants Program to drive and increase female participation at a grassroots level.

One Parkville organisation that could give applicants a few tips is Royal Park Tennis Club, a grant recipient in 2021.

The club used its government funding to introduce a low-cost women’s beginner coaching and social play program attracting 64 new players.

President Caryle Demarte said the club, shut down in 2020 due to COVID, wanted to develop a course to encourage people to get back and play sport and improve their wellbeing.

“Tennis is a sport where people tend to enjoy the experience better if they play the game with people of a similar ability,” Ms Demarte said.

The new initiative was designed and targeted at women beginner players.

“We are aware that women tend to prefer to play with other women and often build friendships at the club,” she said.

“[In our experience] if they join up alone, it doesn’t take long to meet and mingle with other players and club members.”

Under the Melbourne Social Tennis Group banner, the club promoted the project via Meetup, an online platform used to meet people with similar interests.

“We advertised online with the City of Melbourne and used our Facebook page and website as well,” Ms Demarte said.

 

We were so oversubscribed, by at least three or four times, which made us realise there was a big need out there.

 

The duration of the program was eight weeks, held during school terms, with one group on Thursday afternoon and the other on Sunday afternoon.

The club emphasised to the participants that a commitment to the entire eight-week program was expected.

“You won’t develop any skills or make any friendships if you only come once,” Ms Demarte said.

Two courts were dedicated to the program, and eight players per court had an hour of coaching and an hour of social play, followed by a cup of tea or coffee afterwards in the clubrooms.

The program began in 2021 but is still running until June due to lockdown interruptions.

Melbourne University student, 19-year-old Sirui Wang, has had two lessons so far in the program.

“I joined because I liked the idea of it being designed for women and beginners,” Ms Wang said.

“I haven’t played tennis since I was at primary school and I can fit the lessons in between uni classes,” she said.

“Also, I think the cost of the lessons is very reasonable.”

Ms Wang said she particularly liked being able to practice on the courts after the lesson and put into practice the skills the coach taught them in each lesson.

Ms Demarte said, having developed the idea, written the grant application and successfully received the funding, “it is proving to be the most successful program we have ever had in terms of sustained interest.”

Minister for Community Sport Ros Spence said, “grassroots sport plays a pivotal role driving positive social change, and these grants are a fantastic opportunity for community clubs to showcase what women and girls can achieve both on and off the field.”

Ms Demarte recommends the best chance for a successful grant application is to understand the needs of your community and design a program that meets those needs.

Ask about what is working for other sporting clubs and what ideas you might borrow.

“If you miss out the first time, keep trying,” she said.

The $80 per week from the participants does not cover the cost of the coach for an hour.

The grant money makes up the balance for the coach’s fee and pays for the balls and the court use.

It also covers a coordinator’s salary whose role is to introduce and welcome the participants, put them on the court, then put them into teams to hit up after the lesson and host them in the clubhouse.

Royal Park Tennis Club is a community facility and wants locals to play tennis and keep fit while enjoying social interaction •

For more information: changeourgame.vic.gov.au

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