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Disability tennis on line

July 20, 2020

Coaching disabled people, and in my opinion coaching everybody, requires us to adapt space (court size), equipment (racket size, balls, teaching aids, assistive devices etc) and the task as required to facilitate learning, enable success and improve performance.   Coaching disabled people develops strong problem solving skills and improves communication skills e.g. sign language/clear demonstrations for deaf players and clear explanations for visually impaired players.

COVID19 challenged our thinking in terms of how to deliver tennis and retain connections with the players.  The unprecedented situation threw up major challenges but also incredible opportunities.  

I had never heard of zoom until lockdown came. My first experience of the platform was through Metro Blind Sport taking the fortnightly tennis session that I coached on line as a meeting for the players to connect.  This got me thinking as to how feasible on line delivery was.  At around the same time Manoj Soma from Choice International approached me about the possibility of doing an on line wheelchair tennis session. Manoj had done one session with a group of players who played at Lee Valley and Islington.  My initial thinking was I could do a one off session on coordination exercises to do at home.  When planning the session I started to believe we could do a few sessions.  We have now been running 3 months, we have former national coach Stuart Wilkinson (Uxbridge LTC) involved, we secured funding from the Dan Maskell Trust and we continue to deliver.  

“I particularly like two aspects to these sessions, firstly the exercises can be practiced at home. Secondly we practice more subtle skills and listen to detailed analysis of technique, which prevents the temptation when we get back on court to just bash away at balls”, Ralph Charlwood, Middlesex based wheelchair tennis player and weekly online session participant

The success of these sessions gave me confidence to explore further online opportunities and I did on line coach education sessions for Tennis Ireland and other organisations, as well as individual lessons for B1 (totally blind) player Naqi Rizvi and Special Olympics athlete Lily Mills.  Working with Naqi required some thought regarding safety. I asked him to show me his environment with his camera to ensure there were no hazards and we did coordination exercises and he rallied and hit serves against a door.

"During the lockdown, I really missed my sports and outdoor activities. It made me feel very confined and down. While nothing replaces an actual tennis game, getting some semblance of tennis was a good reprieve. The online sessions with Mark were good as they helped me stay connected to the world of tennis, as well as hold a racket and ball all be it within the confines of my tiny studio. Thank you Mark and I hope others can benefit from this too."

Naqi Rizvi, B1 (totally blind) player who plays at Islington Tennis Centre & the Globe Tennis Club.

After several on line meetings for the Metro Blind Sport tennis group Wimbledon’s #WimbledonRecreated campaign stimulated the idea to do an on line group tennis session which also worked well with several blind and partially sighted players doing racket and ball skills and challenges.

It’s been a great journey exploring the logistics and possibilities.  We’ve had to explore insurance, safeguarding and other health and safety matters, learn the best set up for the coaches and the participants, discover the best equipment to use and advise players to obtain and examine what content works and gain feedback from the players.  

I now strongly believe that much of what we have learned will change and add value to our offer in the future.  It has further developed my coaching skills and been a lot of fun.

Mark Bullock

Disability Tennis Coordinator

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