AN award-wining local tennis coach is heading to Abu Dhabi this week to lead the Great British learning disability tennis team in the Special Olympics Summer Games.

Amazingly this will be Lesley Whitehead's fifth Special Olympics and will secure her position as an innovator in improving people's lives through a passion for sport.

Lesley's love of the game started when she was 11 through watching Wimbledon on TV at home and she was encouraged by her dad to take up the game at her local club.

She soon made the county squad as a promising teenager but her forte was in coaching.

It was in 2002, when working at Westbridge in Nottingham, she set up a specific programme to cater for people with disability needs.

Lesley said: "It was the first tennis club in Britain to have its own tailored disability programme.

"I now specifically coach players with learning disability and I am contracted to the Lawn Tennis Association as a learning disability advisor and guide them on new initiatives."

Having been to Shanghai, Athens, Los Angeles, Lesley is working hard to get countries around the world to play elite disability tennis and create more competitions.

She said: "I am looking forward to the Summer Games. It is the largest sporting event of its kind, with 190 countries competing.

"The participants amaze me all the time. If you give them opportunity and confidence, you can see them grow and their social skills improve. Each day I see them make amazing progress in what they can do and how much they love playing tennis."

Lesley, of Skelmorlie, is also involved in disability tennis in Glasgow, where she works with around 60 players.

He said: "It is about playing according to your ability, not your disability."

This group provides tennis opportunities for all disability groups (deaf, learning disability, visually impaired and wheelchair tennis) and is aided by grants and fundraising.

Lesley's work in this field has not gone unnoticed by the tennis authorities, having been selected by Tennis Scotland to win the Disability Programme of the Year, as well as the Aegon British Tennis Award for Disability Programme of the Year, which she describes as 'the icing on the cake'.

Lesley is also involved in officiating and organising tournaments for the LTA, and has also been assistant referee for west of Scotland tour events and ITF (International Tennis Federation) competitions

In her younger days, she also knew famous tennis mum and coach Judy Murray:

She added: "I don't think we ever played on the same court but we were always in the same tournament and just missed each other in the draws. She has done brilliantly well."

Lesley met her partner Tom A'Hara through the Special Olympics in 2005, where he was a cycling coach.

She is also the coach at Largs Tennis Club at Inverclyde Sports Centre which has junior and adult training programmes.