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Harnessing the power of sport: Recommendations for the inclusion of individuals with a disability

Copyrights: Darda Sales

Harnessing the power of sport: Recommendations for the inclusion of individuals with a disability

As an individual with a disability who has been involved in sport for the majority of my life, I recognize how valuable sport has been in shaping who I am today. I believe that being involved in sport has the power to impact all areas of life, including physical, emotional, social and psychological.

Every individual with a disability should be given the opportunity to experience the power that sport can have in their lives. This belief is what led me to focus my doctorate research on the development pathway of para-athletes (i.e. athletes with a disability). In my research, I seek to listen to para-athletes and to learn from them and their families about how they got involved and continue to be involved in sport. From this research, there are three recommendations that I would like to offer regarding getting and keeping individuals with a disability involved in sport. 

Spread word far and wide

My first recommendation is that if an organization is looking to involve individuals with a disability in their programming, then all stakeholders, including the administrators, volunteers, coaches, athletes, and parents need to be aware of this intention and the programming opportunities that are being offered.

Most individuals with a disability and their families are not actively searching for sporting opportunities, as they are more focused on their daily needs and activities. It’s not that they are not interested in sport, it is that they have other needs that require their attention. However, if a person of significance in their lives (a friend, family member, medical personnel, etc.) brings a sporting opportunity to their attention that is applicable to them, they are likely to at least check it out.

Therefore, the more people who know about an organization’s intent and programming for the inclusion of individuals with a disability, the more likely it is that the news of an organization’s inclusion intention can reach those who could take advantage of those opportunities and participate.

Individualize programs to specific needs

My second recommendation is that programs that are focused on teaching individuals with a disability the basic skills required for a sport need to have low athlete to coach or instructor ratios. Low ratios allow para-athletes to receive instruction that is tailored to their individual needs.

It is difficult to individualize the skill development process in a large group setting with high athlete to coach/instructor ratios. In high ratio environments, para-athletes tend to get lost in the crowd and do not receive sufficient instruction for their skill development needs.

Another thing to consider in a program aimed at skill acquisition is that while having coaches or instructors with experience working with para-athletes is beneficial, it is not required. It is more important that coaches are open to learning, both from other coaches who have experience working with para-athletes and by listening to the para-athletes themselves regarding their needs. They can work with the para-athlete to figure out ways to best support them as they work towards their goals. 

Encourage networking between para-athletes

My third recommendation is that whenever possible, para-athletes need to be provided with opportunities to connect with other para-athletes. In the same way that most people enjoy interacting with people who have similar backgrounds and experiences, para-athletes tend to remain more engaged in sport when they feel connected to others like them. 

This does not mean that there need to be other para-athletes within their daily training environment (although this would be optimal). It could be that they connect with others at competitions, training camps or other facilitated means of interaction. 

While there are many other recommendations that could be made on the topic of including individuals with a disability in sport, stakeholder awareness of intentions/programming, low athlete to coach ratio and supporting connections with other para-athletes are the three that can greatly impact getting individuals with a disability engaged and remaining engaged in sport. Through following these recommendations, it is my hope that more organizations will be open to including para-athletes into their programming and that more individuals with a disability will have the opportunity to engage in the life altering experience that is sport. 

Darda Sales is a four-time Paralympian, coach, speaker and PhD candidate in Leadership and Sport Management at Western University in London, ON, Canada.  Her research focuses on the athletic development experience of para-athletes. 

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Darda Sales

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Wednesday, November 25, 2020 - 19:17