Junior wheelchair tennis players learn from Commonwealth Games experiences

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With the Commonwealth Games at the center of the country’s sporting attention earlier this month, the events in Birmingham provided inspiration for aspiring wheelchair tennis stars Will Barton, McKenzie O’Reilly, Lucas Town and Scarlett Walker, although tennis is not on the sports program of the Games.

Like so many of Britain’s medal-winning heroes, these four wheelchair starlets are supported by the SportsAid programme, having fallen in love with tennis when they first played through the LTA’s Wheelchair Tennis Initiative programme.

SportsAid is a charity that enriches the lives of talented young athletes by recognizing and developing their abilities through and beyond sport, with the Team England Futures program created to better prepare athletes to deliver medal-winning performances as beginners from Team England, Team GB or ParalympicsGB. in the next games.

The program empowers a diverse cohort of athletes and support personnel to recognize how to perform at their best, how to handle the pressures and distractions associated with major Games, and how to get the most out of the experience. They experienced first-hand the inspiration and impact of non-disabled and para-athletes competing alongside each other.

Here, the four future tennis stars give us their thoughts on the support being offered to them by SportsAid and the LTA:

Will Barton (11 years old)

  • LTA Wheelchair Performance Pathway: Development Team.
  • Play at Oxstalls Sports Park

Why did you start playing wheelchair tennis and how did you first get involved?

I’ve always loved sports since a young age and really loved anything that involved a ball. Having a disability means it’s hard to get involved in a lot of sports. Luckily, Oxstalls Tennis Center is near me; they had a wheelchair junior session which i tried. I was hooked right away and have been playing ever since.

How has SportsAid funding helped you?

Funding from SportsAid enabled me to get additional coaching as well as to pay for my travel for training and competitions. It was a big help.

What has the Team England Futures program and SportsAid funding enabled you to do?

Being involved in Sport England Futures has been fantastic. I had the opportunity to participate in many workshops; I especially enjoyed the one we had on sleep. It also gave me the chance to meet other young athletes who are going through a similar journey. I attended the Commonwealth Games and got to see a major event from an athlete’s perspective.

What are your tennis aspirations? Where would you like to be in five years?

Having turned 11 in March, the next five years are truly exciting. I want to take my tennis to the highest possible level and in five years I will still be a junior, so I hope to compete with the best junior players.

What advice would you give to a young person who wants to start playing tennis?

My advice to any young person interested in getting into wheelchair tennis is to give it a shot, it’s a great sport with a great community of people.

McKenzie O’Reilly (13)

  • LTA Wheelchair Performance Pathway: Development Team
  • Play at Oxstalls Sports Park

Why did you start playing wheelchair tennis and how did you first get involved?

I started when a coach came to my elementary school to give tennis lessons. The physical education classes were very different because suddenly I was included in the sessions with my wheelchair. Physical education at school was tricky as I wasn’t always included and often that meant I was just asked to take pictures.

What has the Team England Futures program and SportsAid funding enabled you to do?

I went to see badminton and netball at the Commonwealth Games. I am really delighted to be part of Team England Futures. There were several workshops to learn – the best was on social media with lots of tips.

What are your tennis aspirations? Where would you like to be in five years?

Ultimately, being at the Paralympic Games. In five years, I would like to participate in more tournaments and continue to enjoy my tennis.

What advice would you give to a young person who wants to start playing tennis?

Give it a try – it’s a great sport to play if you’re in a wheelchair. Ideal for keeping fit and having fun.

Lucas Town (15)

Lucas-Town-wheelchair-tennis.jpg

  • LTA Wheelchair Performance Pathway: Development Team
  • Plays at the John Charles Center for Sport in Leeds and Bolton Arena

Why did you start playing wheelchair tennis and how did you first get involved?

I started playing wheelchair tennis when a member of staff at my secondary school suggested that I go to the Longley Tennis Club to try tennis with other children in wheelchairs. I also attended a trial session at the Nottingham Open and then I was hooked. I am blessed with excellent hand/eye coordination as my late grandfather played goalie with a table tennis bat and ball at a very young age.

How has SportsAid funding helped you?

Receiving support from SportsAid has really helped me a lot as we have been able to book more individual tennis training and also travel to development camps and competitions. It also helped cover gas costs and buy a bigger tennis bag.

What has the Team England Futures program and SportsAid funding enabled you to do?

The Team England Futures program and SportsAid allowed me to attend development camps and allowed me to attend Next Gen Development Day at the Lee Valley Tennis & Hockey Center with Gordon Reid and Shingo Kunieda. Also, I was really excited to be able to attend the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. I am also very happy to have been chosen to participate in the Masters in the Netherlands later this year.

What are your tennis aspirations? Where would you like to be in five years?

I would like to become the best player possible. I would love to compete in tennis overseas and be chosen to play for Britain overseas and play in the Paralympic Games.

What advice would you give to a young person who wants to start playing tennis?

Anyone looking to start tennis – don’t let your skill level put you off and keep playing and enjoying it. Listen to your coaches and keep pushing.

Scarlett Walker (12 years old)

Scarlett-Walker-with-Shingo-Kunieda-and-Gordon-Reid.jpg

  • LTA Wheelchair Performance Pathway: Development Team
  • Plays at Easton Tennis Centre, Norwich

Why did you start playing wheelchair tennis and how did you first get involved?

I started playing tennis because I wanted to get active again after major surgery. I couldn’t do what I was doing before, so I had to find something new. Wheelchair tennis was one of the few things to work due to COVID, so I went for a long time and gave it a try. I haven’t looked back since. I love it and all the new opportunities I get.

How has SportsAid funding helped you?

I have just received my first SportsAid funding and plan to use it to purchase equipment and fund my training as I prepare for a full tournament schedule next year.

What has the Team England Futures program and SportsAid funding enabled you to do?

Being part of the Team England Futures program and being supported by SportsAid is amazing. When you look at who has been supported before, it’s really inspiring. I loved the Commonwealth Games next week and can’t wait to meet others on the program.

What are your tennis aspirations? Where would you like to be in five years?

In five years I want to be the #1 ranked wheelchair tennis player in the UK (girl U18) and compete internationally as a GB.

What advice would you give to a young person who wants to start playing tennis?

Dark. It’s such an inclusive sport and it has already given me so much since attending my first LTA Wheelchair Tennis Initiative session in 2021.

Wheelchair Tennis Initiative

The LTA Wheelchair Tennis Initiative will play a pivotal role in inspiring the next generation and early development of aspiring wheelchair performance players, leading to the continued success of wheelchair tennis over the long term. There are a series of events across the country in the coming months.

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