Making Tennis More Inclusive
Tennis can be played by all ages & is a sport where males and females can compete together in mixed doubles. Wheelchair users can play against non-disabled players using the two-bounce rule. Visually impaired players can play together or with sighted family and friends using an audible ball with up to three bounces depending on their slight classification. Lee Duck-hee, a deaf player from South Korea, reached 130 in the ATP rankings in 2017.
The court size and type of ball can be adapted to the space available, the age and/or ability of the players. Tennis does not have to be played on a traditional court. Within the rules there are court sizes that correspond to the different balls but tennis can be played almost anywhere without the need for a traditional tennis court: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BRNkFUZqnY
Touch tennis is popular in the UK where adults play and compete on a reduced size court with foam balls making the sport about skill and tactics and reducing the element of power: http://www.touchtennis.com/gb/home.php
What if the rules changed to allow up to 3 bounces?
How do we make tennis more inclusive? At the moment the rules of tennis allow one bounce with an exception made for wheelchair tennis players who are permitted two bounces with the first bounce having to be inside the court. Visually impaired tennis rules allow one, two or three bounces depending on a players sight classification but these rules are not formally recognised by the International Tennis Federation.
What if we reversed the thinking and opened up tennis by allowing up to three bounces in the sport? At a serious competitive level nothing would change but would tennis not be seen as much more open and inclusive if beginners knew they could play off more than one bounce? Rallies would be longer giving more activity and engagement. This may open up the game to more new players and also retain players in the sport such as those with joint replacements, a heart condition or recovering from a stroke. Walking tennis could thrive if it was widely understood people can play with more than one bounce.
Is this really much different to offering a range of court sizes (red, orange and green/yellow), a range of balls (red, orange, green/yellow) and a range of racket sizes. Imagine a future where tennis is played on a wide range of court sizes, with a wide range of balls in a wide range of settings. Imagine a Care Home Championships where players compete with balloons, a Community Centre tournament played on a micro-court and tennis clubs buzzing with people of all ages and abilities playing on the court size and with equipment and rules appropriate to them.
Do we care too much what the rules of play are as long as tennis venues are open and inclusive with lots of people playing, meeting people and engaging with the sport?
Mark has more than 25 years experience in Paralympic and disability sport, sports development and the broader social impact of sport. He is passionate about diversity and inclusion, wellbeing, healthy lifestyles & nutrition. He is an experienced leader, manager, coach and now a consultant working with a number of organisations to promote and develop inclusive sport. A former Wheelchair Tennis Development Officer for the International Tennis Federation, he has travelled to more than 80 countries developing wheelchair tennis and attended four Paralympic Games and two Olympics in various capacities from coach to Technical Delegate.
He has extensive experience of delivering award winning sports programmes in developing countries. He also managed the largest public tennis centre in the UK and delivered community tennis programmes in two cities. Mark is an experienced public speaker having spoken at numerous conferences all over the world. He is a member of the University of Nottingham Sports Board & is also a mentor to current students and has won several awards from the University.
He was a member of International Paralympic Committee Paralympic Games Committee & was a regular delegate to the IPC Sports Council and General Assembly over a number of years. He now writes a regular blog on inclusive with sport and physical activity being the central theme, and is an ambassador for Parallel Global.
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