August 5, 2013 at 9:45 AM
It’s been said before that tennis is a life-long sport, but one man, Richard Walther, is making tennis an inter-generational one, too.
To accomplish this, he’s inspiring seniors to pick up racquets – and in some cases, for the very first time.
"Tennis is now serving a previously underserved population of beginner seniors," explained Walther, who helps to run a number of programs with the Summit Tennis Association. Such responsibilities include family tennis doubles, a tennis reacquainted program and others throughout the year.
"For these new, 70+ players, tennis now becomes a sport of an extended lifetime for people who have never played before or who have not played for perhaps 20-30 years," he added.
While challenges exist to get seniors to play, it appears that Walther has found at least some of the solutions. "Such older adults generally feel they are too old and too slow to play the game," he said, "but we've found that the lower bouncing, slower bouncing low compression balls used for the USTA’s 10 and Under Tennis players also provide the needed skills bridge for the slower reaction speed typical among the seniors."
Although these older adults may reject the idea, Walther, who is in his 90s, says that other light exercise groups simply do not offer the same enjoyment and benefits of the sport. "None of these programs…provide the fun, competition and social aspects afforded by tennis," he added.
Walters’ solution to get seniors to not only try, but to also enjoy the game? "I've found that some of the same, simple activities used to introduce tennis in the elementary schools as described in the USTA manual resonates with these adults," he said.
Walther employs a light exercise class, a prepared and interactive demonstration and then time spent in the gym as part of the program. He continued, "We set up portable nets in a gym in New Providence. While several of the players prefer to use light junior racquets, we use standard height nets."
Weather permitting and once summer arrives, the tennis is taken outside.
The players, Walther says, pick up the game pretty quickly, while the grandparents enjoy time spent with grandchildren and youth on the outside courts in a family tennis doubles initiative that has been organized with the NPTA, according to the Summit Tennis Association’s website, www.statennis.com.
He continues that the players show "the same, enjoyment, energy and enthusiasm as the youth, again demonstrating that this sport is for all ages."