Melbourne, Australia, 9 December 2020 | Vivienne Christie

There are few people in tennis who demonstrate the value of commitment and hard work better than Nicole Pratt.

In a playing career spanning almost 20 years, the Queensland-born Pratt was an Australian Open girls’ champion, a title winner on the WTA Tour, Fed Cup stalwart and a long-serving member of the WTA Player Council.

The former Australian No.1 is now using those qualities to drive another passion – ensuring more women can access and thrive from the many opportunities that exist in tennis.

Coaching is the specific area of interest for Pratt, who was recently appointed to the position of Females in Tennis – Coach Lead at Tennis Australia.

“We’re looking to make coaching a compelling career proposition for women and girls,” says Pratt, who explains the metrics for that objective include a 10 per cent increase in female coaches over a four-year period.

“Why we are doing that is because females are very under-represented in the workforce and we know having diversity is a winning formula for everyone in tennis.”

While noting that the reasons for the gender gap have many complex layers, Pratt also recognises an important starting point in achieving a greater balance – ensuring that women see coaching as a legitimate professional pathway.

“Not enough females realising that coaching is a real career,” she explains. “It’s something that I think a lot of young females go into with an approach of  ‘oh I’ll just do this on the side while I’m doing my university degree’.

“(We’re) really looking to target females that may be looking at other career options at this point in time … trying to educate and attract them to the industry and business of coaching.”

Pratt is well qualified to speak of the industry’s value, with her long career as a professional player followed by a high-performance coaching one. A former coach to Casey Dellacqua, Daria Gavrilova and Storm Sanders on the WTA Tour, Pratt remains influential to top Australian players as coach to the Billie Jean King Cup (formerly Fed Cup) team.

Understanding that success in tennis requires a solid foundation, coaching at a grassroots level also has Pratt’s full attention. In the early months of her new role, the Australian has taken a hands-on approach in delivering foundation courses within various elements of the tennis community.

She is also supporting the development of the three Scholarship Coaches – Genevieve Lorbergs in Victoria, Jessica Moore in New South Wales and Emily Burns in Queensland ­– who were appointed as part of the federally-funded Females in Tennis initiative announced at Australian Open 2019.

“These are three newly created scholarship roles that have never existed before. Hopefully it sends a message that these opportunities are possible,” Pratt reasons.

There are also career paths that can be tailored individually, Pratt explaining the importance of creating a plan that develops a pathway that’s specific to every coach.

“Just like we create athlete development plans, we need to start doing the same with coaches and working through with each coach their aspirations, working through their short medium and long-term goals,” she says.

“Having those conversations is something we haven’t done before. Especially for these three scholarship holders, it’s going to pave the way for them to hopefully achieve their own aspirations within tennis and tennis coaching.”

Recognising that female coaches can form a powerful collective force, Pratt is also keenly focused on developing a networking tool to ensure that coaches can support and learn from each other.

“I’m looking into the possibility of creating a digital platform that will allow all of these females to connect with one another – either through a one-on-one catch-up, or we can create groups within this platform,” explains Pratt, who believes that female coaches will thrive through increased opportunity to create new connections.

“They can then come together and really share ideas and knowledge and experiences. I’m really excited about that platform, because as of now nothing like that exists.”

With technology another area that is potentially under-utilised in coaching, Pratt is equally keen to create a point of difference that provides further pathways for female coaches.

“One area that I’m quite passionate about, and I do believe it’s the future, is the use of technology within coaching. It’s a fantastic teaching tool, but it’s also a real connection and engagement point for players of any level,” she relates.

A digital offering, Pratt notes, can also help provide the flexibility that’s so critical for women in the workforce.

“When you talk about one of the challenges – the reality is females need flexibility and technology allows for flexibility,” she points out. “So the ability to almost coach remotely is definitely an option I see in the future.”

An even greater vision for the passionate Females in Tennis – Coach Lead is overall equality for both coaches and participants.

“The vision is to create equality,” says Pratt, when asked what most excites her about the future of tennis.

“I know what will be possible if we create a more diverse workforce. And in that workforce, I think coaches are integral to every part of tennis in Australia.

“The coaches are the ones running the clubs, running the competitions and if we start to see more females within those types of leadership roles, then I think what’s going to happen at the same time – because it works hand in hand – is a greater number of female participants.”

With that bright future within reach, Pratt is equally passionate about a present in which many Australian women are setting a powerful example for others in tennis to follow.

Among them, of course, is world No.1 Ash Barty.

“The other thing I’m excited about is that it’s a moment in time where also, the stars are aligning, we have the number one player in the world,” says Pratt.

“I’m excited about what is possible in this country for women and girls full stop.”