Based in the metropolitan Atlanta area, Special Populations Tennis Program is a non-profit organization that offers an adaptive tennis program specifically designed to share the lifetime sport of tennis with children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Programs are offered free of charge to all skill levels, including those who have never played, and include year-round tennis instruction, league play and tournament competition.
“We are more interested in the total person than in teaching tennis,” says Executive Director Jim Hamm. “We found that some of our athletes do well on the tennis court, but you put them in a social environment and they tend to withdraw. In the evenings, we will have a special dance and things of that nature that get beyond how well our athletes hit a groundstroke or hustle after the ball.”
An equally important aspect of the program is the chance it offers special athletes to build life skills through social interaction with each other and the many dedicated volunteers who run the programs.
“Athletes get a level of self-confidence and the development of a positive self-esteem,” Hamm continues. “They get the opportunity to meet new friends. Overwhelmingly, they get a sense that they are part of the mainstream community.”
Special Pops is an accredited agency of Special Olympics Georgia (SOGA) and the tennis training arm for many local SOGA-accredited agencies. Under Hamm’s leadership, Special Pops conducts coaches clinics throughout the USTA Southern Section to create awareness and educate people on methods for training players with special needs.
“What is so rewarding,” Hamm says, “is when I see an athlete who first comes in and their parent says, ‘My child is not very athletic.’ Now, that child never misses a chance to participate. When you realize that you are part of something that is so important to somebody’s life, you are not only humbled, you say, ‘I’m not going to mess that up.’”
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