Child in a Wheelchair? They Can Still Learn Tennis!

Tennis Camp for KidsOne of the best things about tennis is that it is a wholly inclusive, non-contact sport. Regardless of age, gender, or physical ability, your child will always be able to play, and have fun while doing it. Wheelchair tennis is a simple adaptation of the traditional game that enables full participation for disabled players.

When compared to learning other sports, tennis has many unique benefits for wheelchair-bound children:

  • Tennis is a social, but non-team-focused game, which provides children with the opportunity to find and make friends without performance fears or pressures.
  • Beginner lessons focus mainly on hitting and serving the ball, so wheelchair users don’t experience any distinct disadvantage compared to their peers.
  • Tennis promotes upper body strength, hand-eye coordination, manoeuvrability, and cardio.
  • Doubles games are naturally well-suited to players with limited mobility.
  • Finally, and most importantly, tennis is just plain fun!

Wheelchair Tennis History

Wheelchair tennis is a flourishing sport that has enjoyed a steady increase in popularity since 1976, mainly due to the efforts of Americans Brad Parks and Jeff Minnenbraker. The two men promoted wheelchair tennis at camps and training sessions throughout the U.S. By 1980, the National Foundation of Wheelchair Tennis (NFWT) was founded as a cross-national governing body. A 10-tournament circuit was established across America, including the first ever U.S. Open Wheelchair Tennis Championships. The next decade saw wheelchair tennis travel to France and then the rest of Europe, followed by Japan and Asia.

During the 90s, wheelchair tennis was played alongside an able-bodied tournament for the first time at the Lipton Players Championship in Florida, and in 1992, wheelchair tennis debuted at the Barcelona Paralympics as a full medal sport. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) opened able-bodied tennis tournaments to wheelchair players the following year.

Rules for Wheelchair Tennis

Wheelchair tennis is largely identical to able-bodied tennis, but with three main differences:

  1. In wheelchair tennis, the ball is permitted to bounce twice instead of once and one of these bounces may be outside the court boundaries.
  1. Players may not use their legs or feet as brakes or stabilizers or to assist in turning.
  1. The entire wheelchair is considered part of the player’s body.

That’s it; three simple rules and your child can easily start enjoying tennis. They can even play alongside, or against, able-bodied players. In these games, each player abides by the rules of their respective tennis types.

Starting Out: Wheelchair Tennis Lessons

Wheelchair tennis is just as easy to “pick-up-and-play” as its able-bodied counterpart. No special equipment or unique courts are required; get a ball and a racquet and you’re good to go. Specialized athletic wheelchairs can be used, but are by no means required. Stability in a day chair can be improved by using straps around the waist, knees, and/or ankles and quadriplegic players can use extra long racquets and have them secured by straps.

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Peter Nielsen

Peter Nielsen, a certified O.T.A Level III coach, has successfully worked with juniors at all levels of the game, from grass roots to the international level. A National Senior Champion himself, Peter was employed as a National Coach by Tennis Canada, as the Head Coach of the Central Region High Performance Program. Peter currently ranks 321st in the world for Men 50 and over.