Wheelchair Tennis Advocate Explores New Coaching Opportunity
WOONSOCKET, RI – It’s no secret Thomas Dodd is widely known in New England and nationally for his advocacy for wheelchair tennis. The Attleboro, MA resident is the President of the South Coast Wheelchair Foundation, which runs more than 30 clinics a year. He also serves on USTA’s National Wheelchair Committee and on both New England’s Adaptive and Wheelchair Committees, the latter as the chair.
Dodd has been celebrated on numerous occasions for his coaching and various contributions to the sport of wheelchair tennis, most recently winning USTA New England’s Diversity Champion of the Year, in 2022.
This past summer, Dodd tried his hand in a new challenge. He accepted his first official job coaching able-bodied players.
“I felt a bit out of my element at first. It was different from wheelchair tennis, but it’s also very new and exciting and every day was different no matter how much you planned for it,” Dodd said.
For six weeks, Dodd coached the Woonsocket, RI Tennis in the Parks program, running red, orange and green ball sessions for new and beginner youth players at the Aylsworth Tennis Courts.
With the assistance of volunteer coach and New England junior tournament player, Lindy Zhang, by his side, Dodd’s transition to coaching Tennis in the Parks was only natural.
“Lindy followed my lead and did great with instruction and demonstration. She was really nice and helpful, and made it easy for me if I got stuck at any point,” Dodd said.
Dodd admitted when he began, he was unsure what the reaction to him coaching in a wheelchair would be. Almost immediately however, he felt welcomed by both students and parents.
“This is something I wanted to pursue for a bit now, and Tennis in the Parks has been a great introduction to coaching. I wanted to get my feet wet and see if it was something I enjoyed, and in fact, it’s been even better than I hoped,” Dodd said. “No one seemed to be affected by my wheelchair. I did not get the usual questions from the adults about why I’m in a chair, and the kids were very helpful running over and picking up balls or poly spots and were great at taking instruction.”
Dodd enjoyed the summer program so much, he decided to sign on for another season. His fall program is currently underway.
With a full season under his belt and another in progress, Dodd is already thinking about his next steps in the coaching world.
“I definitely want to pursue more opportunities. I’d like to get certified – I think it will be a great help for me in my position as a beginner coach. I hope it will transition into more contacts with parks and rec departments, and maybe even get some more kids with disabilities involved,” Dodd said.
Thanks to a recent partnership between USTA New England the Professional Tennis Registry (PTR), Tennis in the Parks coaches are automatically qualified to receive scholarships of $200 (more than half off) toward a PTR Level 1 coaching certification.
Tennis in the Parks is currently running both youth and adult fall programs in 35 cities and towns throughout New England.
To learn more about Tennis in the Parks, register for a program or become a coach, visit the Tennis in the Parks homepage.