The Inclusion of Wheelchair Tennis
in High School Programs
Shelby Baron, Paralympian & USTA Wheelchair Tennis National Committee Member | October 1, 2020
Wheelchair tennis is considered one of the fastest growing wheelchair sports around the world. Competitions take place at all levels from small, local tournaments to the Paralympic Games. There are wheelchair divisions present in all four Grand Slams. But even with wheelchair tennis present at the highest levels, there is an apparent gap in the high school setting.
There has been a recent spike in junior participation within the wheelchair tennis community. In 2019, USTA Wheelchair Tennis made clear moves to prioritize Net Generation throughout the nation. They appointed regional providers for each section to expand the network of local junior coaches. They also released adapted curricula with drills and terminology specific to wheelchair tennis. Due to the initiative, over 300 kids now see wheelchair tennis as a viable and exciting new sport.ADVERTISEMENT
High school tennis is a bridge that exists in the able-bodied tennis pathway. The high school experience is a natural transition for juniors into team competitions, continued skill development, and recruitment into a college program. As you know, high school sports can also be where young students first participate and learn to love the game. Unfortunately for young wheelchair tennis players, this opportunity is experienced by few. So what can you do to help?
Wheelchair tennis is one of the only sports that actually allows for inter-abled competition. Wheelchair tennis utilizes the same balls, racquets, and court dimensions. The only rule difference is that wheelchair players get two bounces.
The main point I want to make to any coach that is hesitant to integrate a wheelchair athlete into their program is this: if you can coach high school tennis, you can coach wheelchair tennis. When it comes to the racquet, stroke production, and tactics, the game is essentially the same! What often intimidates coaches is the sports chair and the sport-related movements. Fortunately, this can be quickly remedied by referencing the “Wheelchair Tennis Coaching Manual” found on USTA.com.
Here are a few other tips when looking to include a wheelchair athlete on your team:
- Make sure the entrance to your courts and facility are accessible (step free entrance, wide doorways, no large inclines, etc.)
- Inform competing coaches/players of the rule difference before they begin the match
- Listen to your athlete when it comes to accommodating their needs
High school is a critical time for personal, physical, and social development. By integrating programs, disabled athletes will have the same opportunities to grow as their able-bodied peers. This can only happen when coaches and athletes all work together to become an inclusive program.
I challenge you to reflect on your high school teams, be open to including an adapted athlete, and search out those who deserve this opportunity.