Now that the weather is warming up, we are going to take the next two months to showcase a handful of adaptive sports. It’s never too late to try that adapted sport you’ve always been curious about. We’re starting off the series with one of the easiest sports to take up, due to the minimal equipment required – wheelchair tennis.
Whether a quadriplegic or paraplegic, all you need to play is a wheelchair and a racquet. Also, medical tape is often used by quadriplegic players to help them grip their rackets and nylon straps are used by all players to make sure their feet and legs stay in place.
Wheelchair tennis is a great sport because you can play it with anyone, including able-bodied players. It’s a “mixed-ability” sport and one you can almost pick up and play at the drop of ahat, as long as you have access to an accessible court. Read on for a brief description of the sport for both paraplegics and quadriplegics.
How Paraplegics Play
When playing wheelchair tennis, the rules are exactly the same as standard able-bodied tennis rules, except that the wheelchair player gets two bounces instead of one before being required to hit the ball back. This is an absolute must since getting to the ball faster than two bounces is simply not possible for most wheelchair-users.
Tennis Chairs: If you’re a paraplegic playing tennis, specific tennis wheelchairs can be used, although using your standard manual wheelchair is fine for amateur players. A wheelchair tennis chair is different in that it has a single wheel in the back of the chair to make it go faster, as well as increased camber on the wheels between 16-22 degrees. By changing the wheels to this position, players are able to push faster in a straight line, while also gaining better sideways stability.
Holding the Racquet While Pushing: For paraplegic players, it’s tricky to hold the racquet and push. To push your wheelchair and hold your racket simultaneously, the trick is to hold the racquet against the wheel and below the rim. If your hand is too small, try a racquet with a smaller handle. Also, make sure you have rubber rims to make it easier to hold the racquet.
Strapping Yourself Before Play: Paraplegic players should always strap themselves in, including their feet, thighs, and around their waist. Not only is this for safety, but it also helps with mobility and agility on the court. When you’re strapped in securely, you have better control of the wheelchair since it’ll be more apt to move with your body. For many, having an exact strapping technique can make or break their tennis game since intricate little moves on the court are critical.
Pushing and a Few More Tips: When pushing your chair to play, two big strong pushes for your first move across the court is key to getting your glide going. Short pushes won’t be fast enough to get to the ball. Another tip: when pushing your chair, use your non-dominant hand to turn the chair while holding your racquet in your dominant hand. Using your non-dominant hand can take some getting used to, but it can also result in a great workout. Also, when playing on the court its important to stay in the hub (the back of the court) so you can get to the ball in time.
How Quadriplegics Play
Many quadriplegics love playing tennis, too (those with C5 injuries and below). Some use their manual wheelchairs to play, fewer use their power wheelchairs. Nick Taylor, a US wheelchair tennis Paralympian, is one of these players. If you decide to use your power wheelchair to play, the powerchair you decide on is key. Make sure it is fast and turns quickly. Both of these are required to play wheelchair tennis successfully in a powerchair.
When taping your hand to the racquet (all quad players do this), it’s important to use enough medical tape around your hand and wrist to make sure you’ve got a good grip on the racket. Don’t be afraid to use a lot of tape. If your hand isn’t gripping the racket tight enough, you won’t able to hit the ball in the right direction. Many quad players also use a reverse layer of sticky tape to create a sticky layer of traction on their hands, which helps them hold the racquet even better.
So there you have it. Wheelchair tennis is definitely a sport to explore if you have a spinal cord injury. Even if you weren’t interested in tennis beforehand, you may find you enjoy the rhythm of the sport, and it’s an activity you can do with both able-bodied and friends with disabilities for years to come.
Do you play wheelchair tennis? What techniques do you swear by?
Education: Wheelchair Tennis Videos