Photo: Girls Leading Girls Tennis
Girls Leading Girls Tennis is a passion project for Mary-Anne MacDonald and her daughter Lillian Pappas, an initiative that has helped grow the game in Nova Scotia while providing an environment for girls to develop a love for tennis, and a pathway to foster strong leadership skills.
Their efforts have not gone unnoticed, and they were recently named one of the inaugural recipients of the newly established Game. Set. Equity. Community Tennis Grant presented by National Bank.
GLG Tennis came to fruition as the result of Pappas, who started playing herself at 9 years old, getting a group of her friends together to put on some Try Tennis events for girls. They proved to be quite popular, and Pappas quickly realized that it could be something bigger. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she and her mom decided to build a more structured program with weekly sessions throughout the year that would include mentors to help inspire the new, younger players who joined to stay in tennis.
“I think one of the things that’s really important for girls in sports is having a group of girls they can work with and what we did for our program was we made it girl-centric, and we came up with things that would make girls motivated to play and also help them improve. This is what made our program unique,” explained Pappas, Co-founder of GLG Tennis.
A total of 80 girls between the ages of 6-18 who are from the Halifax and Bedford areas participated in GLG Tennis this year and were divided into five different groups: red ball, orange ball, green ball as well as U10-14 and U16-U18 competitive groups. MacDonald, who is always looking for ways to create spaces for women, and Pappas ensure that GLG is present in as many different communities as possible to maximize the program’s reach. Pappas, now 16, leads all of the on-court sessions along with the mentors and has been doing so since she was 12.
One way that GLG distinguishes itself is its approach to the youngest red ball group. It features a warmup routine with music that involves tennis footwork to help make the girls more comfortable. They also use ribbon racquets when they first start so they can mirror the movements more naturally. As the players grow up and improve, they advance through the different groups, and some even move into the competition stream. Pappas has noticed how many of the girls have grown in confidence since taking up the game and how proud they are to let everyone know they are tennis players.
Finding Inspiration in One Another
Previously, Nova Scotia had very few U12 and U14 girls playing tournaments with nobody else in the pipeline. Today, they have 16 players competing in those age groups and GLG Tennis is a big reason why. Pappas and the other mentors help the girls prepare for the events and have begun identifying areas where individual players need assistance.
A few weeks ago, Nova Scotia’s own Joni Colburne, who is a GLG mentor, captured the doubles title at the Fischer U12 National Indoor Cup in Calgary and also finished second in her singles round robin group, an impressive achievement considering the province’s prior history.
In addition to growing the pool of players, GLG Tennis is also developing the next generation of female coaches thanks to its mentorship program. It’s important to have those role models for the new, younger faces to look up to. It’s just as crucial to provide opportunities for girls to become leaders and expose them to a career path they may have thought to be unattainable.
Pappas and MacDonald used the funding from the Game. Set. Equity. Community Tennis Grant to put on a showcase event in March to promote GLG Tennis and invited players from all four Atlantic provinces. They also brought in coach Laura Pola from the Mount Royal Tennis Club for the occasion to help train the mentors. A total of 90 players took part and it was a chance for the five groups of GLG to come together, work in unison and share valuable expertise amongst themselves. It also allowed the girls to see the different levels that are attainable if they stay the course.
What does the future hold for GLG Tennis? Pappas and MacDonald are now collaborating with Tennis Nova Scotia who have shown a strong belief in the program from the start. Together, they will look to improve the format being used to move players from red ball to orange ball to green ball to the competitive stream. They’ve also created video resources for other provinces that have shown interest in running something similar to GLG Tennis. The goal is to have foundational support in place to ultimately have it run on a national level.
“My mom is my role model and I’ve loved working with her and none of this would have happened without her. I just get really happy whenever I’m on the court because I love helping all the girls, I love seeing them happy. I feel really proud whenever I think of what we’ve done,” said Pappas about GLG Tennis’ rise to prominence.
Not only are Pappas and MacDonald fostering the growth of tennis in Nova Scotia, but they are also giving girls a sense of purpose as well as a much-needed space where they can make a difference and feel good about themselves and for that, they have every reason to feel a sense of gratification even if they are just getting started.