Using Tennis to Improve Proprioception

By January 23, 2018What works

Tennis is such a fantastic sport. It’s something you can do for your whole life, and with God’s grace, I hope to do just that. Tennis is a sport I brought to Adora almost before I started working here. I’ve been playing since I was young and tennis has helped me meet new people, develop a passion, learn to lose with dignity, and get some much needed exercise too!

I was excited to begin tennis with the students here when I realized the incredible proprioceptive experiences that take place in even the simplest action on the tennis court. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the $64,000 word in the last sentence, proprioception is knowing how and where your body is moving through space and how much strength to use in a given motion.  Tennis is a great example of this. You have to move your right foot one way, your left foot another, twist your shoulders a certain way, swing your arm just so, and flick your wrist to finish. Learning all of this is quite the process, but for children who have experienced trauma, it can be totally worth it.  

Proprioceptive activities can be difficult for trauma survivors because the right and left sides of the brain have trouble speaking to each other when trauma occurs in an individual.  Using both the right and left and left sides of the body as well as being able to use both the creative and analytical sides of the brain can be affected, but that is a subject for another blog.

Tennis is an activity that forces the person playing to use both sides of the brain.  When one is learning or playing tennis, using both sides of the brain is integral to success.  Your feet need to move in certain ways in unison with synchronized movement of your hands, shoulders, torso, head, and even eyes. Now, small refined muscle movements will take plenty of time and practice to make them excellent, but we aren’t talking about the end result, we want to focus on the process.  

It’s important with tennis, or any proprioceptive activity, to remember to not focus on the outcome but the process.  It’s also important to remember to take things extremely slow and to either praise (or self praise if you are doing this on your own) every single small success.  Kids, and us “well adjusted” adults too, tend to focus too hard on the end result and if “perfection” isn’t reached quickly lose interest and get discouraged.  Remember, process over product.  

Proprioceptive activities are HARD. Tennis especially. If tennis is not interesting or fun for you or those you care about, please find some sort of physical activity to do together. Proprioceptive activity can be immensely healing for individuals from hard places, but, as immensely powerful as it can be, time together can be much more powerful.  Also, if neither of you have done something like tennis before, trying something new and potentially embarrassing can help break apart some of the tension you both may be feeling.  

Please check out places like the United States Tennis Association or your local parks and recreation website to see where you can find local and even free tennis lessons for you or your family. Free lessons is where I started and can be a great way to try the sport without any sort of commitment, many free lessons will also help get you started with things like free rackets too!

Several of our learners have been taken tennis lessons and have benefited from the proprioceptive activity and physical activity of learning tennis. Learning to hit forehands and backhands, serves and volleys have helped the young men grow both physically and emotionally as well as helped them grown and have something in common with each other.   

by Jason Feeney