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Diversity and inclusion

How Padel has changed one man and his family's life


James, a young man with Downs Syndrome, has had his life transformed thanks to the game of Padel, and not only has it changed his life, but his family's as well.

James is a young man who loves playing sport, and most recently has discovered a love for Padel.  

James has Down's Syndrome, learning difficulties, hearing loss, no speech and autism, and his main method of communication is Makaton sign language.  

You may ask, how has he discovered and started playing padel? Well, it is thanks to an amazing club in Bromley - Sundridge Park - who, with a grant from the LTA Tennis Foundation, deliver inclusive Padel sessions.  

This is James’ story, and how padel has changed his, and his family's life.

It was like a lightbulb went off above his head.

James needs constant one-to-one supervision, and due to his additional needs, he was excluded from college. This left his mum Jackie, not only as his primary carer, but solely responsible for keeping James active and engaged each day.   

James really thrives on routine, and during lockdown this was drastically affected. Once lockdown was over, Jackie wanted to find as many sports as possible for him to take part in so he could stay active, socialise and build that routine he needs. 

Jackie heard about an inclusive padel session that was running at Sundridge Park, their local tennis club, and took James along to see if he liked it. She said, “he really loved the sessions, and he was so engaged with it.” 

It was because of this that Jackie enquired about one-to-one sessions which he soon started with the padel coach, Jonas. 

Jackie said, “When he started the one-to-one sessions it was like a lightbulb went off above his head. I was just sat there watching as the belly laughs started.”  

After a couple of sessions Jonas asked Jackie what the signs were for specific movements in padel – like spin, off the wall, etc – so he could communicate directly with James. This made a huge difference, Jonas said, “James loves telling you the signs, he likes that you have shown an interest in his Makaton.”   

Jonas has seen a huge improvement in James’ playing since he first started. “He is very talented, his hand/eye coordination's is very good. He has played tennis before, so with Padel, he is just getting used to the walls, and the control. We also have fun and try and do trick shots – James likes it when we are silly!”    

As James progressed, Jonas asked if two other club members – Sheena and Lisa – could play with them to make up a four. This was an instrumental moment, not only for James, but for Jackie too.  

"My god, it made such a difference having two other people on the court," Jackie said. "When you have four it is more competitive, and James is very competitive. James really loved them as they started signing to him, they made an effort to ask and learn the signs for certain things so they could speak with him – it meant so much, I feel like I have won the lottery”.   

Since starting his lessons, James has become more confident and independent, and Jackie thinks a lot of that is to do with the incredible relationship between him and his coach; “He has a really good relationship with Jonas, I feel really confident with Jonas, and I don't worry if James is not in a good mood, as I know Jonas gets it, he knows how he ticks and he will adapt the session for him.

"A lot of the time James is left out, or in the background. Isolation is not good for anyone, even more so when you have learning difficulties, hearing loss, no speech, and autism. Jonas has opened up another avenue to James and it's made his and my life happier. 

“As James doesn't have speech, sometimes he sends me things using his predictive text on his phone. It is very simple, it might be something like “Tennis, Jonas” when he wants to play, or he will take a picture of Jonas and upload that and say “Good, Happy, Day, Fun” it is that sort of speech, but I know it means he is happy.  

“Jonas makes James shine, we are so very grateful to him – he is genuine and truly cares, I can feel James’s happiness”.  

Jackie praises the Club and its members, saying, “I thought we would be like fish out of water at the club and on the court, but it was such a welcoming and relaxed club. The sessions have opened up James’s world.”  

Get Involved in Disability Tennis & Padel

This is an amazing example of the impact that the LTA Tennis Foundation funding is having. Whether you want to play, support or just find out more, read about disability tennis and about how to get involved.

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