On Monday, I volunteered with a program that teaches blind people how to play tennis. I found out about the program through a career fair held at my school. They were in desperate need of volunteers and after speaking to two of their players, I knew that this was something I wanted to do. I had never played tennis before – besides in P.E class if that counts? Lol – but I have watched it on television numerous times because of the Williams sisters. I was very interested to see how people who were blind would learn how to play tennis especially because the ball is so small and able to travel very fast and very high.
The session started with introductions. We went around the circle, said our names, where we were from, and each player told us how impaired their vision was. The majority of the players could only see some light and shapes. They all required some type of assistance. For instance one lady that I met named Claire, had a guard dog. Next we helped the players through a quick warmup. The warmup consisted of things like arm circles, jogging in place, and even sprints as the coach had them run from the baseline to the net. Everybody was so excited to be there. As volunteers we taught skills like a forehand swing and a backhand swing. The key thing we focused on was timing and getting them to swing properly. After that we broke into one on one groups and continued to work with the player, just giving them as much repetition as possible. By now I’m sure that you’re wondering, how does this all work?
Before jumping into that, I want to point out that while volunteering I learned that there are different classifications for different types of vision impairments, which can impact things such as the size of the tennis court that a person plays on. Some players were considered “B1”, which means that they have no light perception in either eye and are unable to recognize the shape of a hand at any distance or in any direction. The size of these players court was 42ft. × 21ft. (12.80m×6.40m). Players in the “B2” and “B3” group were able to recognize the shape of a hand up to visual acuity of 20/600 and/or a visual field of less than 5 degrees in their best eye. Their court was a little longer as it was 60ft.× 27ft. (18.28m×8.23m). After understanding the different groups, the first step to how this all works was to lay down tactile lines. This allowed the players to feel with their feet where they were on the court. They understood that if they were on the line or past it, then they were out of bounds. The rackets the players used were smaller and they also played with a sponge ball. The ball was soft and light so it didn’t travel as fast or high. In the middle of the ball was a table tennis ball that contained four iron pellets. It produced a rattle sound which allowed the players to know when it bounced and how far away the ball was from them. Lastly, before each serve you had to say “ready”, “play”, so the player knew to be on alert for the sound of the ball.
I got to work with a boy named Edward who was in his second time at the program. In the beginning, he could barely do the drill where I rolled the ball to him and he stopped it with his racket. By the end of the session he was doing that and more. He progressed all the way to hitting the ball close to the net. If you could hear the excitement in his voice and see the smile on his face, your heart would literally melt. See, failing wasn’t an option for these players. Every time you told them that they missed the ball they were more determined to hit it the next time. Often times we give up so easily when things aren’t going our way. “It’s too hard”, “I don’t have the money”, or “I’m too tired” are the excuses we tend to give. These players had every reason to want to give up but they didn’t even though they don’t have one of the most important things in life, sight. In their minds they see themselves as winners and so should we!
Count your blessings because it could always be worse. I truly am grateful that I decided to volunteer and help out this program. Sports really do change lives.