Adaptive Tennis Anyone?

Apr 28, 2015
Tagged with: Adaptive Tennis Anyone?

When we think of adaptive sports, also known as sports for people with disabilities, we usually think of wheelchair basketball, which not only has an international following, it’s also a Paralympic sport. However, basketball is not the only adaptive sport out there; there is also wheelchair rugby, Goalball for the visually impaired, cycling, and tennis, all of which are also Paralympic events.

Adaptive sports often don’t get the attention they deserve and, as a result, the people who could benefit the most from participating often don’t even realize that they exist. Today, we are going to focus on adaptive tennis, what it is, when it started and how you can get started too.

What is Adaptive Tennis?

Adaptive tennis started as wheelchair tennis in 1976. Over time, the sport evolved to include people with varying types and levels of disability from individuals on the Autism Spectrum and those with Downs, to players who are considered environmentally at risk, such as those with HIV or individuals dealing with abusive home environments.

There are currently five categories under which people can play adaptive tennis:

·  Category 1 – for individuals with mental or cognitive disabilities;

·  Category 2 – for individuals with physical disabilities;

·  Category 3 – for individuals with mental health issues;

·  Category 4 – for the environmentally at risk.

The use of categories is to ensure that tennis players are matched with others with similar needs, to create an inclusive experience that is enjoyable for all participants. The categories are not necessarily set in stone either.

It’s possible for people to exist in more than one category, such as someone with a physical illness that could affect her mobility who also has mental health issues. In the early stages of the illness, that individual might be able to play with category 3 players; as the illness progresses, she might start playing with other category 2 players. However, it’s also possible that, with adjustments and modifications to game play, she could continue playing with her category 3 friends and companions.

Ultimately, the point is to make the game inclusive to anyone who wants to play, and who might not otherwise be able to play in a traditional setting.

Special Equipment and Training

In many ways, adaptive tennis is much like non-adaptive tennis. The rules are generally the same, except that players might have two bounces to return the tennis ball instead of the standard one. The equipment for adaptive tennis is usually the same as well, including the racquets and ball machines. Where the equipment and training might differ is in how the players use the equipment or in the type of equipment they use.

The biggest issue that players have to face is learning how to use and adapt the equipment to their needs. Depending on the category, this could involve something as simple as learning the basics of how to hold the tennis racquet, serve, and return the ball, or it could involve something more complex, like figuring out how to adapt the equipment for the player’s specific needs.

For example, a person with quadriplegia might not have the grip strength to hold the tennis racquet, and might need to use tape or a gripping device. On the other hand, a wheelchair player with fully functional hands and arms might not need to modify his racquet for grip strength, but will need to learn how to hold on to the racquet while using that same hand to propel and maneuver his chair.

Organizations that cater to individuals from multiple categories might need to invest in tennis ball machines with adjustable heights and speeds to accommodate multiple needs.

Although the rules for adaptive tennis are basically the same, there are some minor differences to gameplay, depending on who is playing. For example, wheelchair players tend to stay behind the baseline – a point known as “the Hub” — because it gives them more maneuverability and time to react than staying close to the net. They also have to remain in motion, versus an ambulatory tennis player, because a wheelchair user needs to build up the momentum to pursue the ball.

Some wheelchair players invest in special sports wheelchairs that provide better handling and cornering than standard wheelchairs. However, it’s not necessary to invest in a sports wheelchair right away, and many players do well playing in their own manual wheelchair, at least when they first start out.

Whether you have played tennis before, and are looking to pick it up again, or you are starting anew, adaptive tennis is a great way to incorporate activity into your life, hone your motor skills, and expand your social horizons.


Author: Nayab Sh

  • bobl07

    It is that time of the year. Grab a racket and get moving!