On Wednesday 28th October James, part of the QCF office team, had the opportunity to watch and learn how to play visually impaired tennis. Earlier this autumn the Foundation awarded a grant to Metro Blind Sport to run 12 weeks of coaching sessions for visually impaired players. Metro Blind Sport have been running soundball tennis in the UK for over 10 years, and have been at the forefront of creating new possibilities for visually impaired people.
Two of the most important elements of the sport are: the court and the balls. The court is marked out with tactile markers which allows for the players to have an understanding of where they are on the court through the feel of their feet or racket. The players use a large soft sponge ball with ball bearings in the middle of it which make a sound when the ball bounces. In VI tennis players are allowed a maximum of three bounces before hitting the ball, which combined with the slower pace of the ball allows the players a greater reaction time. To learn more about the differences in VI tennis watch this great video: Rules of VI Tennis
The reason why the sessions are so successful are because of the people involved: the participants, the coach, and the volunteers. The participants varied in both age, ability, and experience, but were all bonded in their shared circumstances. This created a brilliant environment in which the world number 3 in his category was assisting and encouraging a young girl who was playing for just the second time. The adaptability and flexibility of the coach, Mark Bullock, allowed for session to be at the correct level for everyone, while also ensuring the fundamental principle of enjoyment was maintained. Vital to the enjoyment of the sessions is the fantastic work the volunteers do for Metro Blind Sport. The majority of the volunteers are teenagers from the local area, who assist Mark in a multitude of areas including setting up the courts, assisting in coaching drills, and umpiring matches. Without them the sessions would not be able to run as smoothly.
Seeing the sessions take place in person gives you a truer understanding of the level of skill involved, and also an insight into the challenges that visually impaired people regularly overcome. Inventive solutions, such as soundball tennis really make a difference to the individuals’ lives. One of the participants commented that “as a blind person you are often isolated from society, particularly in the current climate. These sessions allow me to feel part of a community.” Additionally, because soundball tennis can be played by both visually impaired players and sighted people, it allows a level of interaction unavailable in other sports. One of the mothers of a participant highlighted how her daughter learning to play soundball tennis would allow the two of them to play a sport together for the first time.
The Queen’s Club Foundation is extremely proud to be supporting Metro Blind Sport and are looking forward to visiting the sessions again in the future. If you would like to learn more about the sessions and how to join then please visit: https://www.metroblindsport.org/sports/tennis/