Individuals with disabilities often dismiss involvement in sports as something unattainable to them. While some sports may in fact prove too difficult, for many disabilities tennis isn’t one of them. In fact, with a few considerations, more and more people are finding tennis not only doable, but highly enjoyable for various types of disabilities.

Tennis and Disability: Successful Coaching

Playing tennis has a multitude of health benefits for just about anyone, regardless of age, gender, or ability level. For persons with disabilities, the benefits could be even stronger, particularly when it comes to self esteem. For many disabilities, a player’s success has a lot to do with your coaching approach. The following guide will examine coaching individuals with hearing, visual, developmental, and physical impairments:

Coaching the Hearing Impaired

For all the types of disabilities, those who are hearing impaired typically need the least amount of modifications. This is underscored by the various players with hearing impairment who have competed at top levels throughout the history of tennis. The challenge you must overcome as a coach is that most of your instruction and feedback is given verbally. To accommodate, you will need to communicate using mostly visual, tactile, and kinetic information in a way that may sometimes feel like you are exaggerating.

Incorporate visual and graphic elements such as printed boards, tablets, and mobile apps. Use your body language to demonstrate techniques and gestures to convey feedback and information, especially when changing tasks. It’s also important to minimize background noise for those who are only partially hearing impaired. Lastly, checking for understanding and making sure the player can always read your lips is crucial to their continued success.

Coaching the Visually Impaired

Those with visual impairments play a different variation of tennis to accommodate absence of sight. Blind Tennis is an internationally recognized sport with its own regulations and competition schedule (national and international.) It includes the following modifications to the game: the court is reduced to the size of a badminton court, the jingle bell is placed inside the ball which is made of rubber foam, players use mini rackets, and up to 3 bounces may be allowed based on level of impairment. The server must also say “ready” and wait to hear the receiver say, “yes” before serving.

For the visually impaired, you must rely heavily on kinetic, hearing, and tactile information in your instruction and player feedback. For learning the execution of techniques and skills, it’s important to give feedback as often as during and after each action. Help them become familiar with the tools, targets, and space they will use for training and keep it consistent. When giving instruction and feedback, avoid moving around. Staying in one place helps them stay focused on what you’re saying. Finally, incorporate tactile lines on the court so the player can more easily know their position at all times.

Coaching Developmental Disability

Developmental disability encompasses an array of different neurological conditions beginning during growth up until the age of 18. These conditions involve limitations in areas instrumental to life such as mobility, learning, language, and other areas that impact independent living. The most successful players in this category are typically those with some degree of autism. For those players, it’s extremely important for you to get to know them individually as the spectrum is broad and everyone is different.

You must pay special attention to their behavior as most will not express themselves verbally. Familiarity and routines provide comfort and allow these individuals to build confidence. They also do better in quiet spaces with minimal outside distractions. Individuals with autism typically exhibit repeated behavior patterns that can be incorporated into your training as routines.

Coaching Physical Disability

Physical disability covers a wide range of impairments that typically have a considerable effect on motor skills. The most common form of tennis used in this category is wheelchair tennis, the main difference being you are able to hit the ball after the second bounce. Any player in this category who has what is considered a “minimum disability” may play wheelchair tennis.

It’s important for coaches to know the specific type and degree of injury in order to adapt instruction accordingly. For example, the location and degree of the injury will affect training on various techniques of playing tennis. You’ll also need to establish their range of motion and adapt their play within those limitations. Train them to use their free hand to support and anchor their body to the chair for stability and greater confidence. It may also be helpful to consider a smaller court and racket size, depending on level of experience and functionality.

It’s More than Possible

While it may be common to rule out playing sports due to disability, this isn’t necessary in many cases when it comes to playing tennis. Adaptations can be made to accommodate a broad range of disabilities and give players varying degrees of success on the court. Much of these adaptations have to do with coaching style and techniques. Use this guide to tennis and disability to get started with your students today.

Contact Us to learn more about the benefits of playing tennis for all ages, genders, and skill levels or to schedule lessons for you and your family.