Pushing the boundaries: Adaptive, behavioral health tennis are Kansas City game-changers
Three years ago, Michael-Ray Pallares was in Kansas City, Mo. hosting a play-day tennis event through his foundation One Love Tennis Inc., a non-profit organization designed to reach under-resourced and low-income youth through affordable tennis, education and fitness. Certified therapeutic recreation specialist Ron Tankel learned about his initiative and extended an invitation to visit with members of the then-Truman Medical Center (now University Health hospital) Behavioral Health’s New Frontiers tennis program, and the rest is history.
The two have since put together a team of experts to create a curriculum that will be geared towards educating coaches and therapists on how to implement a program designed to help individuals improve their overall health and wellness through tennis. Physical activity has been shown to have a strong and positive influence on mental and emotional well-being, as well as a number of mental disorders. Participation in regular physical activity can increase self-esteem and improve social skills, in addition to decreasing stress and anxiety.
Pallares is a former professional tennis player who was a two-time USTA national champion as a junior, received a full scholarship to play at the University of Alabama, ranked in the nation’s Top 10 in NCAA Division I tennis, and held an ATP ranking for more than 10 years while representing the Dominican Republic in Davis Cup and at the Central American and Caribbean Games.
Pallares then traveled extensively as a professional tour coach for several ATP and WTA players ranked in the world’s Top 10. He also served as technical director of the Panamanian Tennis Federation, Turkmenistan Tennis Federation, and the Guam National Tennis Federation; and as an expert coach for the International Tennis Federation (ITF), where he undertook the Development of National Sport Structure, and created an action plan to strengthen the tennis program approved by the International Olympic Committee and Olympic Solidarity.
Tankel has more than 35 years of professional experience in both in-patient and out-patient behavioral health as a recreational therapist. He has worked with adolescents and adults as both a clinician and a program supervisor. Tankel collaborated with an occupational therapist to create the New Frontiers outpatient tennis program. This program provides programming for adult clients who have severe and persistent mental illness. Tankel is the former national co-chairman of the American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA) Behavioral Health section and was also a member of Truman Medical Center’s Diversity and Inclusion Council.
In 2021, a USTA Adaptive Tennis pilot program called One Love Tennis was implemented in conjunction with Synergy Services, a program for at-risk Kansas City youth. With the help of Northland Racquet Club and the North Kansas City Parks & Recreation Department, students can experience both indoor and outdoor play. The main focus of the program, which is currently in its second year, is to improve the students’ overall self-esteem, socialization and team-building skills.
The data gathered from the combined programs will be used to demonstrate that tennis is a viable tool to improve individuals’ overall health and wellness. This research will provide the foundation for further curriculum development.