At the age of 3, Naomi Osaka picked up a tennis racket and it changed her life.
Several years and two Grand Slam titles later, Naomi knows how much opportunity sport unlocked for her — and she wants that for all girls, starting in Japan, her birthplace.
That’s why, together with Nike and Laureus Sport for Good, Naomi launched Play Academy with Naomi Osaka, an initiative that aims to change girls’ lives through play and sport, starting in Tokyo. The program is part of Nike’s Made to Play commitment to get move kids moving around the world.
“I believe in the power of sport to create bigger change, and I’m passionate about inspiring the next generation of female athletes,” Naomi says. “But not all girls, especially girls from underserved communities, have the same opportunities or role models that I’ve had, I want to do something about it.”
Active girls are healthier, do better in school, in their careers and the community — and they also see themselves more positively, build stronger coping skills and set bigger goals.
Play Academy will help provide fun, positive experiences, focus on gender-inclusive coaching and programming, and invite more young women to become role models — all to help break down barriers to sport for girls.
Hear from girls themselves on why we need programs like Play Academy:
We have an inactivity crisis — today’s generation of kids is the least active in history. Girls are disproportionately affected: By age 14, girls drop out of sport at twice the rate of boys.
In Japan, the statistics tell an even deeper story. Girls ages 6 to 15 are 20% less likely to participate in sports than boys to begin with.
We also know that girls who drop out of sport starting at age 10 are not likely to return in their lifetimes. Here’s why:
It’s not that girls don’t want to play — the majority tell us they do. They don’t always have access to diverse options that interest them, or often, they want to play in a girls-only space or play with their friends.
Social expectations and pressure to conform to conventional roles hinder girls’ participation in sport, which results in 30% of teenage girls having a negative image of women in sports.
Even when unintentional and indirect, girls can often face discrimination by coaches that can undermine their confidence. Less than 30% of youth coaches have been trained — in things like safety and injury prevention, sports skills and tactics, let alone in how to connect with and make all kids feel included.
On average, male coaches outnumber female coaches — 72% compared to 28% respectively. And we know that girls benefit from female role models. And we know that girls benefit from female role models, who can connect with them and show them what’s possible.
All kids face stress, but some things impact girls differently than boys: take puberty, body image, physical changes and social pressure. And many coaches and staff either have a lack of understanding or don’t how to support them during this time.
And none of this is the girls’ fault.
To work toward the future we want to see — a future where all kids have access to play and sport — we’re working hard to change the game for girls.
Here’s how Play Academy with Naomi Osaka is inspiring the next generation of female athletes:
We believe play and sport should be safe, fun and designed for all kids, regardless of gender identity, background, ability or aspiration — so we emphasize fun, positive experiences over competition.
Insights from leading global organizations, such as Laureus Sport for Good, inform our work. And to implement it, we know local nonprofits know their communities best, which is why we focus on grant-making and partner programming, to empower change at a grassroots level.
Coaching through a gender-inclusive lens sends the signal that all kids are welcome on the court or field. Even subtle shifts in language can make a difference — and training coaches to use an inclusive lens helps unleash all girls’ potential.
We believe that if girls can see it, they can be it. So we’re inviting more young women to become role models — because we know that kids do better when they have a caring coach who looks like them, understands and supports them.