Learning Disability Week: How tennis has helped Bexley Mencap keep members active
• 3 MINUTE READ
The past year has thrown up a whole host of unique challenges for the world of sport and for anyone hoping to get on court. One group that has been particularly affected are disability sports groups – many of whom have spent long spells away from the court, pitch or track due to the pandemic.
With people looking to find new ways to keep active and stay in touch with friends, a great number of tennis players turned to virtual sessions, run by many incredible coaches, venues and organisations such as Mencap – a UK Charity that works with people with a learning disability, and who launched a national partnership with the LTA back in 2019 as part of our Open Court disability tennis programme to help get more people active through tennis.
On Learning Disability Week, we shine a light on the incredible work that Bexley Mencap and 2020 LTA Tennis Awards winner LuSu Sport have been doing to help support a group of players through Zoom Tennis.
Partnership with Mencap
The LTA’s partnership with Mencap helps provide funding for 15 local Mencap groups (known as ‘Network Partners’) in communities across Great Britain, so they could apply for tennis equipment, coaching and training. The partnership aims to help these Mencap Network Partners develop connections and relationships with a local tennis club that runs an LTA Open Court programme – providing disability specific tennis sessions – and get more disabled people into the game.
But with the pandemic and the lockdowns that followed, the bulk of this delivery at tennis venues throughout the nation was put on hold.
However, the LTA and Mencap were still able to distribute equipment bags to players last year – providing young people with learning disabilities an opportunity to get involved with tennis, from home.
Zoom Tennis with Bexley Mencap
With more rackets and balls in hands, it was time to get active and play some tennis.
Bexley Mencap were one of the local Mencap groups who attended a Zoom Tennis training course held by the LTA and LuSu Sport – a tennis organisation experienced in delivering adapted sessions for disabled people.
These training sessions taught them about the equipment in the bag and provided examples of fun tennis drills that can be done in a small space – ready to pass them on to their members.
The course inspired Bexley Mencap to do what they could to help keep more people active and entertained during lockdown, and so they decided to set up their own sessions. After launching their weekly Zoom Tennis sessions, they noticed the impact they were having on their members and the numbers of people attending went from strength to strength.
Since joining the group, Liam – one of the learning disability players who has benefitted from taking part in the sessions – has been able to learn all his shots without ever setting foot on court and has enjoyed how inclusive the lessons are for everyone.
“I like Zoom Tennis because everyone can join in” he said. “It’s fun and easy. There are lots of different balls and exercises to do. The time goes really quickly.”
For other members like Duncan, the Zoom Tennis sessions opened a window to a whole new world of sport and activities to get involved in. It’s even inspired him to come up with a host of new creative exercises in the garden using his equipment (and occasionally involving the dog!)
Nick Marsden, an Income and Development Officer at Bexley Mencap, who was part of the original group who undertook training, felt that tennis gave them a unique way to engage with their members during a difficult period.
“We learned to play a range of games with soft balls, a large felt ball, a happy hitting hand and a special balancing mat; not to mention scrunching up coloured scarves,” he said.
“Zoom Tennis has been a big hit. There’s so much you can do with it for all abilities! It’s simple to set up and play and there are loads of different actions and exercises for everyone to try.
“I can see that the hand/eye co-ordination of members is improving each week. That’s because they tell me they practice ready for next time.
“They love being in the ‘spotlight’ on Zoom and being pinned! We stop and clap when a member wants to show off their skills to everyone.”
The work of Bexley Mencap and many of the other Network Partners involved in the prgramme is making huge steps in showing just how inclusive tennis is – no matter however and wherever you want to play. Off the back of the success of the Zoom Tennis sessions and the easing of lockdown restrictions, the members will now be fully set to have fun and enjoy getting on court this summer.
LTA Open Court Programme
The LTA’s Open Court disability tennis programme is one of the largest of its kind across any sport. With a network of over 400 venues delivering sessions, the programme has helped a record number of disabled people across the country pick up a racket and enjoy the physical and mental health benefits that tennis offers. To find out more about the programme, click on the links below: