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State of the Union-Wheelchair Tennis

by Jason Allen, USPTA Elite Professional

USPTA Professional Jason Harnett with Team USA Chris Herman and author, USPTA Elite Professional Jason Allen.
USPTA Professional Jason Harnett with Team USA Chris Herman and author, USPTA Elite Professional Jason Allen.
This has indeed been a monumental year for wheelchair tennis in the United States. In October of 2016, a new team was put in place to succeed Dan James, former national manager of USTA wheelchair tennis. Mr. James was in the position for 13 years and was responsible for the amazing increase in popularity of the sport not only in the USA, but arguably worldwide. His right-hand man, USPTA Professional Jason Harnett, is now in the position of national head coach and manager for the USTA and he brings an impressive resume. Both he and James have been involved with wheelchair tennis ever since it was taken over by the USTA in 1998 and there is no better person to take the reins from James than Coach Harnett.

The individual who drove the decision to hire Coach Harnett was USPTA Elite Professional Joanne Wallen. Affectionately known as Jo, she was recently named USTA national director of individual adult play and wheelchair tennis. She joined the USTA after an impressive and illustrious career as a tennis director, general manager, and former WTA touring professional.

In order to grow wheelchair tennis effectively, Jo decided to leverage the other manager position in the wheelchair department staff by hiring a person with a tennis and coaching background. By doing so, this manager could alleviate some of the responsibilities of the national head coach by taking over the growth of the sport across the USA from a grassroots standpoint; thereby allowing Coach Harnett to focus on high performance, player development, and coaching. I was then named manager of wheelchair and technical. I work hand in hand with Coach Harnett to grow the sport as well as help him identify potential athletes for our professional teams that compete worldwide and vie for a spot on the Paralympic squad. Moreover, both of us are fortunate to have Jo at the helm as the director. She has a passion for tennis in general, but specifically for wheelchair tennis. As a team, we have pushed through an amazing amount of initiatives this past year. We have also benefitted from the advent of the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Florida and being across the street from the United States Professional Tennis Association. With the collaborative effort between the USTA & USPTA, we will be able to exchange ideas on the steps tennis-teaching professionals and coaches can take to learning more about wheelchair tennis.  One step tennis coaches can take is to earn their wheelchair certification by the USPTA.

With people becoming more active and engaged in wheelchair tennis, the USPTA has renewed its initiative to promote wheelchair tennis to tennis-teaching professionals and coaches. The USPTA announced that there will be five opportunities for tennis-teaching professional and coaches to earn their wheelchair certification.  Along with the wheelchair certification, coaches can also find content on TennisResources.com and can use the website for advice on how to create a wheelchair tennis program for their club or facility. Tennis coaches can also contribute their wheelchair tennis videos to TennisResources.com as well. USPTA National Head Tester Sid Newcomb said that he is looking forward to more coaches gravitating to becoming wheelchair tennis certified.

“I’m very excited about the renewed initiative by the USPTA to certify more coaches in wheelchair tennis,” said Newcomb. “We’re looking to double the number of tennis-teaching professionals and coaches that become wheelchair tennis certified and start programs to build wheelchair tennis from the ground up.”

In the past year, we have seen wheelchair tennis tournament play increase by 18 percent nationwide. $50,000 in grants were given to new programs whose goal is to exclusively bring new players to the sport. A new website was developed to highlight all the programming across the country in order to make more programs accessible. A new tournament format which serves as an activation was created as a one day, fun, and social event called the Wheelchair Tournament Series. 10 pilots occurred across the USA and the events were a huge success. On the player development side, Coach Harnett has been quite busy forging ahead with an aggressive amount of new initiatives. The most salient is the work being done to create more wheelchair tennis programs at the college level. When Coach Harnett started the process, there were only seven universities involved with a wheelchair tennis program. In a short period of time, the number of wheelchair tennis programs has increased to 20 at the collegiate level. A great deal of work has also been done in regards to actualizing coaching curricula that will serve as a model for all providers and certification institutions. This past year, our high performance teams have had a great deal of success with all three teams finishing on the podium at the World Team Cup in Sardinia, Italy. The junior team completed a three peat by winning their third consecutive junior world championship. David Wagner, finished number one in the world in the Quad Division and was crowned as the 2017 US Open Champion as well as the 2017 Australian Open Doubles Champion. We have had many of our professional athletes compete in Grand Slams and World Championships.

There has indeed been a buzz created across the nation this past year. We expect play to increase exponentially. We also continue to expect great things from our current Team USA members. If you are interested in more information or are interested in starting your own program, please reach out to me at Jason.Allen@usta.com.

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About Jason Allen
Jason Allen is the manager of  wheelchair tennis and technical at USTA National. His main goal is to grow wheelchair tennis across the USA. On the Technical side, he handles all ball testing and oversees court testing at the US Open. He is a USPTA Elite Professional, USTA High Performance Coach and also serves as the tournament manager at the US Open Grand Slam Wheelchair Tennis Competition in New York. Jason holds a BA in Spanish Education and an MA in Educational Leadership with a Principal’s License.
 
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