Wimbledon is 26 June – 16 July 2023
With the excitement of this year’s championship in full swing, it’s a perfect opportunity to shine a spotlight on a smashing sport for those who are blind and visually impaired—Soundball Tennis! While the world marvels at the aces and volleys of top players, let’s explore the powerful backhand of Soundball Tennis, serving up inclusivity for the visually impaired in the United Kingdom.
A Unique Adaptation
Soundball Tennis, also referred to as Visually Impaired Tennis or Blind Tennis takes the classic game and puts a spin on it for individuals with visual impairments. This adapted version uses specially designed shorter rackets and lightweight audible balls. It’s played on a smaller court with tactile lines and the net lowered, ensuring every serve and volley is accessible.
Unlike the original game, the rules for Soundball Tennis allow the ball to bounce on the court twice for someone who is partially sighted, and up to three times for players with no vision. Depending on the division, players may be blindfolded to even the playing field. The players rely on their finely tuned auditory skills and swift footwork to dominate the court. It’s a true game-changer!
An Inspiring Origin – ‘If you make an effort, you might make impossible things possible’ – Miyoshi Takei
This incredible sport has an inspiring story, originating in Kawagoe Japan, with a blind high school student who never gave up on his dream to play tennis. In 1984, Miyoshi Takei began to work with his PE teacher to find a way for him to play the game just like his abled-bodied peers.
At first no one thought it was possible for blind people to play tennis. One of the biggest challenges was finding the right ball and the right sound. After many years and experimenting with different materials, he discovered that he needed something like the ball used for Blind Table Tennis.
Unlike bells, the bearings inside these Ping-Pong balls continued to make noise even while they’re in flight. The first versions of audible tennis balls were made by cutting foam balls in half, placing these Ping-Pong balls in the core, and retaping them together. Even with the balls being individually hand made for each event, with Miyoshi Takei’s determination the sport began to spread throughout the country and soon tournaments were taking place.
Soundball Tennis in the World
Miyoshi Takei believed any blind person who wants to play tennis can, if only they could hear the ball. In 2007 he embarked on a world tour to demonstrate Soundball Tennis, and today 19 countries are part of the International Blind Tennis Association (IBTA).
As Wimbledon progresses, visually impaired players are hoping that one day soon Soundball Tennis will become part of the Paralympics and they too can have the opportunity to be a champion for their country.
Soundball Tennis in the UK
With support from the National Tennis Foundation and organisations like British Blind Sport, Metro Blind Sports and other local charities promoting inclusivity, Soundball Tennis is a fast-growing sport in the UK.
There are many opportunities for people of all ages to participate for leisure, or in local, national, and international competitions. Soundball Tennis can be enjoyed by sighted and visually impaired players together. Getting involved is about playing an exciting sport, being part of a community, staying active and fit, building skills and confidence, making friends, and just having a great time.
Check out the Lawn Tennis Association’s (LTA) session location finder and other resources linked below if you’re interested in this sport:
By Guenivir Kendrick
blindtennis. (2012). The Lecture About Blind Tennis by Miyoshi Takei. YouTube. Retrieved July 9, 2023, from https://youtu.be/nbiypVhv1D0.
IBTA. (2023). Who We Are. International Blind Tennis Association. https://www.ibtatennis.org/who-we-are
Metro Blind Sport. (2021, February 25). History of blind tennis. Metro Blind Sport. https://www.metroblindsport.org/sports/tennis/history-blind-tennis/