How Adaptive Tennis Programs Adapted During Pandemic
Canceled tournaments, postponed clinics, closed courts, all with no end in sight. One program director described the times as “this upside-down world,” but it was important to keep this population of challenged athletes “up.” They needed to keep exercising, in regularly scheduled routines, and to be in touch with others who reminded them of the good times when tennis was in their lives--until they could safely meet again.
From big organizations with programs in several states to small-town groups, there were many virtual activities such as pushup challenges, workout sessions, Zumba, kickboxing, fitness training. They kept in touch by Zoom, social media, newsletters, phone calls, texts, emails, exchange of photos and videos--daily, weekly, or as often as possible.
The various programs were dependent on local rules and court openings and were mindful of the high-risk state of some athletes’ health. Prizes were offered, drawings were held, delivery of bags containing equipment and snacks were made. Some were back on the courts by June 1, others aspired to September or even late fall. The plans for return began early with requirements of masks, sanitizers, social distancing, no shared equipment, no hugs or high-fiving. But most all expected to return!
One program, Project Elijah Empowering Autism (PEEA) of Philadelphia, Pa., was able to re-open in June. Eric Williams started PEEA as an autism support group after his son, Elijah, was diagnosed. It quickly expanded to include arts and crafts, athletics, field trips and recently added drones.
It’s important to Williams, as a parent and a consumer, to provide a “safe and nurturing environment.” So when he was forced to shut down operations due to COVID-19, he went virtual. He would video tape his son performing tennis skills and send it to his families so that they could stay active at home. Williams also began PEEA Pals, a virtual chat, simply because he missed his PEEA family. He now has people participating from Massachusetts to Texas to California!
When he was able to re-open, he started small, again video taping Elijah on the courts practicing social distancing and using hand sanitizer. He sent the video to the families and invited them to come out and watch to be sure they were comfortable. He had Zoom competitions where those who were comfortable did skills on the courts while those who were not, could do the skills at home. Slowly, the athletes began to participate again with the new best practices in place.
Part of PEEA’s mission statement addresses maintaining a level of standard that can enhance the productivity of the participants’ lives, “one step at a time.” The one-step timeframe is something all adaptive programs should consider as they transition to times that are finally, with tennis in full swing, right-side up!