With more than 250,000 courts in communities across the U.S., tennis is a widely accessible sport that more than 15 million Americans love to play, from young children to people in their 80s. One reason why tennis is so popular is it is a sport that is very social, both on and off the court, through tennis clubs and leagues. “In addition to the benefits of getting outside, becoming active and exercising, many of the participants like just as much meeting people, forming friendships and connecting to a tennis community that can be like a second family” said Steve Kappes, Director of the San Diego Wounded Warrior Tennis Program and Director of Military Outreach for the San Diego District Tennis Association. With tennis, you can choose to play the occasional, neighborhood 30-minute game recreationally or play in competitive matches that can last hours. Fortunately, tennis offers numerous adaptations in instruction and equipment that allow youth and adults of all abilities to play.
Athletes with any number of disabilities can enjoy playing tennis standing up, which includes athletes with limb loss, other orthopedic challenges or visual impairments. There are many very helpful equipment adaptions available (see equipment below) and, because tennis tournaments are based on skill-level, once an adaptive tennis player is able to rally, competition in both singles and doubles play is available.
Since its beginnings in 1976, wheelchair tennis has grown from an exhibition event to an officially-recognized Paralympic sport since 1988. But a player doesn’t need the skill level of a Paralympian to enjoy the sport. In wheelchair tennis, the only rule change is that the player gets two bounces, if needed. Special wheelchairs with cambered wheel are used for better stability and maneuvering. More than 100 competitors from around the world competed in the Rio Paralympics in 2016, including U.S. athlete David Wagner who earned a Bronze medal and is currently ranked #2 in the world. “It [wheelchair tennis] is something I can do with my able-bodied friends.” Wagner told Gillette World Sport. “It’s pretty inclusive of all disabilities whether you are standing or sitting.”
“Tennis works very well for people with different disabilities. Lessons can be catered to anyone’s ability, so we can ensure our participants have success” said Richard Spurling, founder and Board President of ACEing Autism, a nonprofit providing children with autism spectrum disorders opportunities to play tennis. ACEing Autism serves more than 650 children with autism across 45 locations nationwide and plans to serve 1,000 youth with Autism in 2018. “A lot of kids on the spectrum are visual learners, so we use visual schedules, specifically nine different pictures to show participants the different skills that they will work on throughout the class. There is a lot of physical prompting when we teach using hands-on techniques. Rather than using too many words, we will physically help participants hold and swing the racket so they get a feel for what the stroke is supposed to feel like. Then you fade away while they practice the right motion.”
Adaptive tennis opportunities are available to veterans of all ages with disabilities too. “Tennis is a lifelong sport. We serve veterans who have recently served to veterans who served in World War 2. This is because we can adjust what we do to accommodate whatever their ability level is” said Steve Kappes. VA hospitals have a recreation department or therapist on staff running adaptive sports programs, including tennis. Contact your local VA hospital to learn about what is available.
“It’s all about having fun, where you will meet people interested in your well-being and happiness.” Steve Kappes “We want people to keep coming back for more. We offer tennis in the most accommodating, supportive way possible. Family members and friends are encouraged to join veterans at clinics to have someone close to them with whom they can play.
Adaptive equipment is available to make learning and participating in tennis a fun and challenging experience right from the start.
Tennis rackets come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including ones that are shorter, smaller and lighter, which make gripping the racket and hitting the ball easier, especially if range of motion is an issue. Sometimes athletic tape or a gripping device to secure the racquet in their hand and forearm is used. There are numerous kinds of tennis balls that vary in size and compression. Larger tennis balls are easier to hit and lower compression means that tennis balls will move more slowly and be less likely to bounce over your head, allowing rallies to last longer. Even courts can be reconfigured for adaptive tennis play. For instance, reducing the playing area means longer points and more fun. Lower tennis nets and portable nets are also available to modify the playing areas to whatever works best for learning and playing, even off the tennis court on a flat surface like a blacktop, driveway or playground. There are also swing tee stands to practice stroke mechanics.
CALL OUT BOX
“The people you meet through tennis great people are friendly happy optimistic outgoing, just want to have a good time and want others to have a good time.” Steve Kappes
The best place to get started playing adaptive tennis is finding your nearest USTA US Tennis Association Foundation (USTA) registered adaptive tennis program, which you can easily do by going to the USTA Foundation website : a look for the nearest of almost 250 programs in the U.S . From there, simply contact your nearest location and schedule an opportunity to play. https://www.usta.com/Adult-Tennis/Adaptive-Tennis/Information/usta_adaptive_tennis_registered_programs/
In addition to the USTA, more than two dozen Disabled Sports USA chapters offer adaptive tennis: to find your nearest chapter, go to http://www.disabledsportsusa.org/locations
ACEing Autism locations can be found here: http://aceingautism.org/locations/
Veterans can find and contact their local VA hospital through this link: https://www.va.gov/directory/guide/allstate.asp
PROFILE SIDE BOX (with a picture that is attached)
When Asher Major, a 13-year old boy with Autsim Spectrum Disorder, first tried tennis at age nine, he had trouble focusing, staying on the court no more than 5-10 minutes. Today, Asher makes thirty-minute presentations and plays tennis for 90 minutes and longer, thanks to ACEing Autism and adaptive tennis. “I do have autism, but autism is just the way I think, it’s not who I am.”
Now, Asher is playing on his high school tennis team.
“Tennis gives kids the chance to feel good about what they are doing and the chance to interact with other kids. ACEing Autism has been a game changer for us.” It’s night and day!”
“I love the game of tennis. I wasn’t very good when I first started, but I never gave up” Asher said. “ACEing Autism gave me tennis, the love of my life.”