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Is it OK to ask?

Adam Hills has done some amazing work around bringing disability sport into the mainstream world and getting people to ask the questions they have always wanted to ask but were afraid to do so (#isitok @TheLastLeg). For those of you who haven’t seen ‘the best thing I saw at the Paralympics’ YouTube clip I urge you to do so. The way he speaks so positively about disabled athletes while still making the whole sketch funny – laughing with rather than laughing at, is a major achievement. The perfect man for the job presenting ‘The Last Leg’ following each 2012 Paralympic day of activity, and now regularly on a Friday night.

This blog is about welcoming new members into your club. They may have an impairment, they may not. But what are coaches ok to ask their disabled participants? There is so much fear about whether you are asking the right thing, how much you should actually know and what you need to know about disability as a coach. The thing to remember is you are speaking to an individual, a person who has come along to your coaching session and wants to take part. What would you ask anyone coming along to your session for the first time?

  • Have you played before?
  • Have you any injuries I should know about?
  • Anything else I need to know about you before you get started?

They seem like pretty reasonable questions, no? Well, those are the same questions you ask a disabled person. Three of the worst things you can do:

Ignore the person

Assume their ability as a participant

Turn them away

To help you along, here are some more reasonable questions to ask.....

  • What is your current level of fitness?
  • Have you played before? What is your current skill level?
  • Do you feel like you need any additional support to start with?
  • If you have played this sport before have you needed any modifications or adaptations?
  • Do you have any previous or existing health considerations I need to be aware of?

Remember, disabled people are disabled by the barriers that society puts against them. (physical barriers such as ramps, lifts, bad signage, etc. Also things like people not having the confidence to talk to disabled people as people). Unfortunately they are well aware of these barriers and have probably worked hard to overcome them throughout their lives. They are the best people to talk to about the best way for you both to work together to achieve their personal goals and ambitions in your sessions.

Don’t forget to continue the partnership as they continue their training. Speak to them before and after the session, as you would with any participant: “How have you got on today?”  “Anything we need to look at for next week/session?”. This will help you prepare anything you need for the next session.

You are a good coach. It is your job to differentiate your session to help ALL your participants reach their own goals and achieve positive results. I have spoken to many coaches coaching at all levels. There is a general consensus that coaching disabled people has benefitted their coaching as it has made them think about different approaches to get the most out of people.

Not all disabled people want to take part in sport with non disabled people but some do. Don’t you think it is fair that they have a choice and have a positive experience THE FIRST TIME they take that step? That is in your hands as their coach.

So, before you think “No, I can’t do that” ask yourself  “why not?” is it because you haven’t done it before or you think you can’t.....because, you can, if you are a quality coach!! Have confidence. You can do it. You’ve just never tried before.

What might be useful is to get some brief knowledge about different impairment groups. Check out sports coach UK Impairment Specific factsheets.

Sports coach UK also runs various workshops to help develop your skills and knowledge around coaching disabled people. Check out the disability coachingsection of our website for more information.