Tennis

Junior wheelchair tennis players take inspiration from Commonwealth Games experiences

Junior wheelchair tennis players take inspiration from Commonwealth Games experiences
Written by highergroundintl

With the Commonwealth Games the focus of the nation’s sporting attention earlier this month, the events in Birmingham were inspiring for aspiring wheelchair tennis stars Will Barton, McKenzie O’Reilly, Lucas Town and Scarlett Walker, despite tennis not featuring in the Games sports programme.

Like so many of the British medal-winning heroes, these four wheelchair starlets are being supported by the SportsAid programme, after they fell in love with tennis when they played for the first time via the LTA’s Wheelchair Tennis Initiative programme.

SportsAid is a charity which enriches the lives of talented young athletes by recognising and nurturing their abilities through and beyond sport, with the Team England Futures Program established to better prepare athletes to medal deliver-winning performances as either Team England, Team GB or ParalympicsGB debutants at future games.

The program enables a diverse cohort of athletes and support staff to recognise how to perform at their best, how to handle pressure and distractions associated with a major Games, and how to make the most of the experience. They experienced first-hand the inspiration and impact of non-disabled and para-athletes competing alongside each other.

Here, the four tennis stars of the future give us their take on the support coming their way courtesy of SportsAid and the LTA:

Will Barton (age 11)

  • LTA Wheelchair Performance Pathway: Development Squad.
  • Plays at Oxstalls Sports Park

Why did you start playing Wheelchair Tennis and how did you first get involved?

I have always loved sport from a young age and really enjoyed anything that involved a ball. Having a disability means it’s difficult to get involved with a lot of sports. Fortunately, Oxstalls Tennis Center is near where I live; they had a junior wheelchair session which I gave a go. I was hooked straight away and have been playing ever since.

How has receiving SportsAid funding helped you?

Having SportsAid funding has allowed me to get additional coaching as well as supporting my travel for training and competitions. It has been a huge help.

What has been part of the Team England Futures Program and SportsAid funding supported you to do?

Being involved in Sport England Futures has been fantastic. I have had the opportunity to join lots of workshops; I particularly enjoyed one we had about sleep. It has also given me the chance to meet other young athletes 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? Where would you like to be in five years’ time?

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

What advice would you give any young person looking to start tennis?

The advice I would give any young person interested in starting wheelchair tennis is to give it a go, it’s a great sport with a great community of people.

McKenzie O’Reilly (aged 13)

  • LTA Wheelchair Performance Pathway: Development Squad
  • Plays at Oxstalls Sports Park

Why did you start playing Wheelchair Tennis and how did you first get involved?

I started when a coach came into my primary school to deliver some tennis sessions. PE lessons were very different because suddenly I was included in the sessions with my wheelchair. PE at school was tricky as I was not always included and often this meant I was asked to just take photos.

What has been part of the Team England Futures Program and SportsAid funding supported you to do?

I went to watch badminton and netball at the Commonwealth Games. I am really excited to be part of Team England Futures. There have been several workshops to learn from – the best one was on social media with lots of tips.

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

Ultimately to be at a Paralympics. In five years’ time, I would like to be entering more tournaments and still enjoying my tennis.

What advice would you give any young person looking to start tennis?

Have a go – it’s such a great sport to get involved in if you are in a wheelchair. Great for keeping fit and having fun.

Lucas Town (aged 15)

Lucas-Town-wheelchair-tennis.jpg

  • LTA Wheelchair Performance Pathway: Development Squad
  • Plays at 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 one of the staff at my High School suggested going to Longley Tennis Club to have a go at tennis with some other children in wheelchairs. I also attended a come and try session at The Nottingham Open and then got hooked. I’m lucky to have great hand/eye coordination, since my late Grandad played keepy-uppy with a table tennis bat and ball at a very young age.

How has receiving SportsAid funding helped you?

Receiving support from SportsAid has really helped me a lot, as we have been able to book more tennis one-to-one coaching and also travel to development camps and to competitions. It has also helped to cover petrol costs and buying a bigger tennis bag.

What has been part of the Team England Futures Program and SportsAid funding supported you to do?

The Team England Futures program and SportsAid have enabled me to attend development camps and enabled me to attend the Next Gen development day at Lee Valley Tennis & Hockey Center with Gordon Reid and Shingo Kunieda. Plus, I was really excited to be able to attend the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. I am also really excited to have been picked to go to experience the Masters in the Netherlands later this year.

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

I would like to become the best player that I can be. I would like to take part in tennis competitions abroad and be picked to play for GB abroad and to get to play at the Paralympics.

What advice would you give any young person looking to start tennis?

Anyone looking to start tennis – don’t let your skill level discourage you and keep playing and enjoying it. Listen to your coaches and keep on trying hard.

Scarlett Walker (aged 12)

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

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

Why did you start playing Wheelchair Tennis and how did you first get involved?

I started playing tennis as I wanted to get active again following major surgery. I could no longer do what I did before, so I had to find something new. Wheelchair Tennis was one of the few things running because of COVID so I went a long and gave it a go. I haven’t looked back since. I absolutely love it and all the new opportunities that I am getting.

How has receiving SportsAid funding helped you?

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

What has been part of the Team England Futures Program and SportsAid funding supported you to do?

To be part of the Team England Futures Program and supported by SportsAid is amazing. When you look at who’s been supported before then it’s really inspiring. I loved the Commonwealth Games next week and look forward to meeting other people on the programme.

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

In five years’ time, I want to be the No.1 ranked GB wheelchair tennis player (U18 Girl) and be competing internationally competing GB.

What advice would you give any young person looking to start tennis?

Go for it. It is such an inclusive sport and has given me so much already since I attended my first LTA Wheelchair Tennis Initiative session in 2021.

Wheelchair tennis initiative

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

More details

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highergroundintl

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