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Land O'Lakes student creates adaptive tennis program

By Kyle Burger,

2023-03-14
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Ryan O’Connor is the number two seed on the Land O’ Lakes High School tennis team. The sport he loves is more than just a game.

Last April, he was looking for a program to volunteer his time to teach kids how to play the game. When he found nothing in the area, the sophomore decided to start his own program.

O’Connor created an adaptive tennis program called “Tennis Starts With Love,” a passion project that is now sponsored by the United States Tennis Association.

“We work with kids and try to improve their coordination and dexterity through certain aspects of tennis such as throwing and catching balls, hitting because that’s a big motion, hand-eye coordination especially because tennis requires that,” O’Connor said. “We’re trying to grow those skills in children while also having fun with tennis.”

O’Connor was born premature, three months early. He started playing youth tennis to help his muscles develop.

“What happened is the right side of my body was very rigid,” he said. “Tennis really helped grow and relax the muscles and the dexterity because you have to use all your muscles in tennis. Tennis helped me and I know it’s helped many others grow their coordination and dexterity skills.”

His class, with the help of student volunteers, meets every Friday during the school year on the tennis courts at Land O’ Lakes High School from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

The adaptive program is for children ten and younger; it’s free, and all the equipment is provided.

“My son, Maxwell, has special needs,” Liv Swift said. “He has Down syndrome. He needs a program that is adapted to what he can do and his abilities.”

The parents watch from the bleachers.

“Because of [my son Avery’s] speech delay, it is important for a coach to be very nice and patient when it comes to giving him instructions,” Angela Smith said. “Ryan does a great job at that. I enjoy the way he teaches my son.”

“He’s super excited about it when I pick him up from school,” Smith added. “At two o’clock, he knows he is going to tennis.”

For O’Connor, all the planning and hard work are worthwhile.

“When I see them having fun, clearly gaining skills, while also enjoying tennis, that really makes me happy,” he said. “It makes me feel I am actually having an impact on these kids, making a difference.”

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