Inclusion Exhibition

What a thrill! And a fabulous demonstration of inclusive sport in action!

Last Sunday I was invited to play in an exhibition of inclusive tennis. Organised by Danny Sapsford, co-founder and manager of the charity Bright Ideas for Tennis (and former GB Davis Cup player), and Mark Bullock, inclusive sports development advisor (and former member of the International Paralympic Committee Paralympic Games Committee!)

The aim was to showcase inclusive tennis.  It did that in spades!

The cast list was intimidating!

  • Joe Salisbury, Australian Men’s Doubles Champion 2020, and semi-finalist with partner Rajeev Ram at the recent ATP Finals at the O2, topped the bill!
  • Anna Smith is another doubles specialist winning the WTA ranked Nurnberger Cup in 2017.
  • Lucy Shuker, a wheelchair player with medals galore, including two bronze in the Paralympic doubles, twice a Masters Doubles World Champion and 5 World Team Cup medals.
  • Rachel Morgan - Twice World and twice British totally blind tennis champion!
  • Esah Hayat is the British Deaf singles champion and a Deaf World Doubles silver medallist.  And he is studying Natural Sciences at Cambridge.
  • Lily Mills is the four-time women’s national champion in the Learning Disability championships and GB representative at the Special Olympics in 2019 and still only 20!
  • Naomi – Naomi is back on court and insists that playing tennis is one of the best ways to support her mental health. There are so many benefits of the game, both mental and physical, and she is a keen promoter of getting out there and giving tennis a go!
  • And me - a novice who has risen to the dizzy heights of just about managing to play social doubles!

The venue was equally intimidating, the marvellous indoor tennis centre at St George’s College, an independent school.  We had two of the courts to strut our stuff and be filmed.

First, Mark led us in a warm up.  Sprinting on the spot, well running of any sort, is not my forte, so I was shattered from the get-go!  Balancing a ball on the racket is particularly hard without a wrist, requiring such an uncomfortable shoulder turn I gave up until I tried it on the backhand – there is always a way!  Watching Joe do this while balancing on a wobble board made the pain worthwhile.

Danny paired us up and challenged Naomi and I to rally through a Tennis Factory ‘micro net’, which is hard with really soft balls – it requires gentle touch.  Then Mark had us practising imaginary forehands, backhands, volleys and smashes from different coloured markers.  All my shots went in!

We were soon on to hitting across the proper net, with a variety of balls.  One of the great things about tennis is the scope for adaptation.  There are a variety of nets, balls and with the lines on the court, scope for altering the ‘rules’ to even up the challenge.  We mostly used the red balls (75% slower and bigger than the normal yellow ball), except when playing with Rachel as she uses a sound ball (slightly larger with ball bearings inside), and the occasional yellow ball.

Hitting with Esah, whose control and direction were tested as he kept getting my shots back and within reach, was a joy.  Mark moved me on to play with Joe, a complete thrill.  I had properly warmed up by now and was hitting it as hard as I could and just about reaching the far end of the court but at least we were rallying!

During my interview – the morning was filmed to create a video showcasing how tennis can be adapted – I explained the development of my rackets.  From a clamp holding the racket, through a rod allowing the racket to be gripped in two places, we have ended up, courtesy of Professor Ivor Day (retired professor of engineering at Cambridge University – choose your neighbours carefully!) with a racket screwed directly into the arm socket.  This makes it feel as if the racket really is an extension of my arm!

After the interview I was partnered with Rachel and we rallied with Esah and then he was joined by Anna.  This was truly awesome.  Rachel is allowed 3  bounces of the sound ball, but rarely used it, scooping the ball from in front of her with an action that put tremendous spin on the ball, and allows for some error.  I have to say it was extraordinary as I was quickly forgetful of the fact that she cannot see!  No wonder she is a world champion.  But there we were, four players, three disabled and a non-disabled champion, rallying for minutes at a time, demonstrating that sport can be truly inclusive.  Wonderful.

That left me time to play with Lucy Shuker against Lily Mills and Mark Bullock.  I had met Lucy four years ago when I did the tennis element of my Road2Rio challenge, so it was a thrill to catch up with her and this time play on the same court.  The speed of the wheelchair when you are up close is something else.  But my, I can see why Lily is a champion – she gives the ball a real thwack.  She will be winning for a long time yet!

A huge thank you to Danny, Mark and Abbie (who I am sure did all the hard work) for putting this on. And to the other participants for showcasing what we passionately believe in at Power2Inspire – that “No one need be left on the bench!”

Inspired? Then Get Involved!

If you would like to support us in our mission to “embed inclusive sport in the sporting, education and community landscapes” then we would love to hear from you. We are always looking out for people willing to fundraise for Power2Inspire through their own inspiring means. Or, you could volunteer at one of our events, or you could give to the ongoing work of Power2Inspire.
Click the button here to find out more.

Or join us at our next big Festival of Inclusive Sport:

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John Willis

CEO & Founder, Power2Inspire