Tennis is one of those great sports that is both fun and competitive and that can be enjoyed both by tennis beginners as well as advanced tennis players. My 11-year-old son is an avid tennis player.  By avid I mean he lives to play tennis.  He tests the rate of speed of his tennis serve, can tell you which type of courts- hard true, all-weather or grass- are best for which players. Understands the difference between weighted and unweighted tennis rackets and enlists men 3x his age to serve as tennis match players with him.  To say that we live tennis in our home is somewhat of an understatement. So when our family was recently invited to a game of the World Team Tennis tournament at Cary Leeds Tennis Center in Bronx, NY, where my son goes to day-camp, we were so excited we took the whole family and made a night of it.

 World Team Tennis, or WTT, is a mixed-gender professional tennis league and was co-founded by Billie Jean King in 1973.  What was so exciting about the event we attended was that Billie Jean not only founded the WTT, she was in attendance at the game the evening we attended and received an honor for the amazing work she has done in connection with empowering girls for the last several decades, both on the tennis court and off the courts.

BJK (left) at WTT

Billie Jean King began her career at 10 years old when she accompanied a friend to a country club and played tennis for the first time.   Billie Jean says that as soon as she put her racket to the ball, she knew tennis was the sport she wanted to dedicate her life to. From then on, she invested tirelessly her efforts, time and money into perfecting the sport. As with anything that we want to master and excel at “10,000 hours” of practice is required and Billie Jean put in her hours and then some. 

When Billie Jean was just thirteen, she was banned from taking a photo with her tennis team because she was wearing shorts rather than the traditional dress that was, at the time, worn by female tennis players. This event began Billie Jean’s advocacy for equality in the world of sports.  In 1959, four years later, at the young age of seventeen, Billie Jean went pro. By 1966, Billie Jean was ranked #1 in the world for women’s tennis, and she would hold this title five more times through 1974. She used the power and influence she earned to shed light on gender equality issues. Billie Jean has been quoted as saying, “Unless I was number 1, I wouldn’t be listened to.” Your children can learn more about Billie Jean King in an easy to read book wirtten for kids titled I am Billie Jean King. For parents who are interested in learning more about the tennis superstar, Billie Jean has written her own book about her life as a tennis player and activist, Pressure is a Privilege. You can also check out Billie Jean King’s website for more information about everything the incredible tennis player and activist has done!

By the mid-1970s, Billie Jean King was becoming a household name known for her incredible tennis skills, but off the court, she was also becoming an advocate for women. In 1971, Billie Jean became the first woman athlete to earn over $100,000 in prize money;  unbelievably this was still, $15,000 less than the men’s champion earned during the U.S. Open in 1972. The injustice of this and the inequality led Billie Jean to found the Women’s Tennis Association where she rallied for equal pay for both men and women. 

Everyone thinks women should be thrilled when we get crumbs, and I want women to have the cake, the icing and the cherry on top too,” King is quoted as saying. 

In 1973, after Billie Jean threatened to boycott the U.S. Open tournament, they became the first tournament ever to offer equal prize money to both sexes. 

King’s advocacy garnered a lot of attention, both good and bad. In 1973, she was challenged by Bobby Riggs, another acclaimed tennis pro, to a game of tennis famously titled “Battle of the Sexes.” Riggs wanted to play against Billie Jean to prove equal pay was not needed because women’s tennis was inferior to men’s. Billie Jean King proved Riggs wrong by winning the game, which was the most-watched game of tennis in history with over 90 million views. You can watch her win here or watch below!

Even after retiring from the sport, Billie Jean King has never given up on her fight for equality for women. In 2009, President Barrack Obama recognized her efforts for women and Billie Jean was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest honor given to civilians. 

Your daughter need not love sports to enjoy learning about BJK.  In fact, BJK stands proudly among a myriad of now-famous women who have influenced history.  Herstory: 50 Women and Girls Who Shook Up the World, is both an entertaining and informative children’s book detailing famous women who have influenced history, including icons such as Rosa Parks, Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie, and Malala Yousafzai, among many more! She may also be inspired by Strong Is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves, a book which features real girls doing things they love, from sports to baking to dancing and everything in between. Empowering our young daughters to realize their dreams can be actualized with hard work and the knowledge that anything is possible will empower a generation of young women who are changing the course of history. 

Here at Curlee Girlee we love books and activities that provide for a fun and positive learning experience. To help boost your young girl’s confidence and continue her journey of empowerment, buy her the Curlee Girlee book (s) which teach children to love themselves just as they are (book 1 in the series) and uncover their hidden talents (book 2 in the series). For coloring fun we love  I am Confident, Brave & Beautiful, a coloring book full of pages and drawings that “encourage girls to think beyond social conventions and inspire conversations with adults about what it really means to be confident, brave, and beautiful.” It is a creative activity that even the youngest girls will enjoy and be able to learn from.

Scene from the Curlee Girlee

Changing the inner dialogue of our children begins at a very young age.  Our children and especially our young daughters need to be surrounded by positive female role models, like Billie Jean King. Ensuring that our role models are men and women who believe in girl empowerment will allow our children to become confident adults and vehicles of change and innovation. 

 If  you and your child are inspired by BJK  or simply love to be active, consider buying them a tennis racket which was made just for kids, and The Big Book of Tennis Facts: for kids and adults, a comprehensive book for learning all about tennis and how to play. If you are someone who likes to look fashionable even while playing sports there are so many great tennis fashion choices.  Check out this tennis skirt outfit and  tennis sneakers too, and check out our article on 5 Techniques to Help your Curly Girl Learn to Tie her Shoes!Buy the Curlee Girlee book here, pre-order Curlee Girlee Book Two Curlee Girlee’s Got Talent here, and subscribe on our website for ways to empower your daughter.

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