More wheelchair users across the Midlands could get the chance to discover touchtennis and play year-round following the success of a programme at the University of Wolverhampton’s Walsall campus and an LTA initiative designed to improve grassroots tennis facilities.
Wheelchair athlete David Sinclair, from Walsall, discovered touchtennis through playing wheelchair basketball at the University of Wolverhampton. The programme is run throughout the region by Walsall-based tennis coach Clayton Edge, who originally held sessions on the grass at the Arboretum.
This proved a huge barrier for David who, as a youngster, was a keen tennis player before an accident in his teens left him in a wheelchair and unsure he would play again. However, with the support of the University, Clayton was able to begin sessions indoors at the Walsall campus, which enabled David to return to a sport he loves.
One of the key differences to David’s experience is the access to indoor facilities – playing indoors means it is far easier for him to move around the court and has really enabled him to excel at the sport.
David said: “I’ve always been sporty and I was so happy to discover touchtennis and begin playing again. I loved the sport as a kid and didn’t want being in a wheelchair to affect that. One of the biggest differences for me is having access to well-surfaced or indoor facilities, because it’s almost impossible to move around on grass in a wheelchair.
“Having access to these sessions with Clayton here at the Walsall campus has enabled me to play to a high standard and I know access to more indoor facilities and well-surfaced courts would allow more wheelchair athletes to take up the sport.”
David has progressed enormously as a wheelchair touchtennis player, and now plays regularly in tournaments. Recently, he became the first wheelchair athlete to take part in the main draw of the Black Country Open.
Van Willerton, Regional Participation Manager for the LTA in the Midlands, said: “We’re very proud to work with Clayton in delivering programmes like touchtennis, which is a form of tennis that is absolutely suitable for everyone. The fact that David can play with able-bodied athletes here at the University of Wolverhampton is a fantastic example of how these programmes can be enjoyed by all.
“The key to increasing opportunities for people to play is through facilities like these here at the University’s Walsall campus and, with the recent record level of funding for grassroots facilities available through Transforming British Tennis Together, there has never been a better time for clubs, universities and local authorities to tell the LTA what is needed in their local areas to get more people playing the game.”
Transforming British Tennis Together aims to reduce the barriers to playing tennis by doubling the number of floodlit and covered courts across the UK over the next ten years, increasing available playing hours. The initiative will also see the LTA work with local communities across the region to:
· Install online booking and entry systems so everyone can book a tennis court easily from their mobile phone, computer or tablet;
· Refurbish courts, clubhouses and other social spaces to ensure players have a great experience every time they visit;
· Support other innovative and creative ideas that meet local demand.
Kate Williams, Senior Officer for Sports Development at Walsall Council, said: “It’s great to see University facilities here in Walsall being used by tennis clubs and wider community programmes. We work closely with the LTA and other tennis partners in the area to develop local tennis projects and support clubs and coaches in delivering community tennis.
We have introduced touchtennis at Walsall Arboretum and we are happy to look at all initiatives which might get more people active. The exciting new investment programme in Transforming British Tennis Together is something we hope will help us continue to deliver sustainable and accessible opportunities for all”.
Deputy Director of the University of Wolverhampton’s Institute of Sport, Bess Evans, said: “We’re very excited to see how the LTA’s multi-million pound investment could benefit us here at the University of Wolverhampton. With Birmingham’s bid for the 2022 Commonwealth Games it is a really significant time for sport in the West Midlands.
“Walsall as an area is not physically active enough and the possibility to improve and develop facilities with tennis at its heart is a fantastic chance for us to increase participation in the region.
“We’ve seen today how the university can partner with community initiatives like the touchtennis programme and we’d love to be a part of more initiatives with the help of the LTA to get people more active and playing tennis.”