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Confident Workforce Key to Creating Culture of Inclusion

Voices of Incredible People series: Esther Jones – Retired Paralympian and Workforce Development Lead Officer, UK Coaching

Six ‘Voices of Incredible People’ (VIPs) were invited to share their inspirational coaching stories to a group of partners, leaders, coaches and participants at an event hosted by UK Coaching and Sport England to celebrate the two-year anniversary of the Coaching Plan for England

While their individual motivations for starting out in coaching are as diverse as their backgrounds, there was a common theme running through the compelling collection of personal journeys: the transformational power of coaching.

We believe it is incumbent on the industry to spread empowering stories like the ones told by our six VIPs, as not only are they Incredible People but also Very Influential People, who can raise awareness of the importance of coaching through the emotional impact generated by their experiences.

I have Cerebral Palsy, which is a physical impairment.  

As a youngster I went to a mainstream school, which was unusual in the 1980s. I was badly bullied at school and ended up with mental health/confidence problems as a result. My mum, who was a physio, introduced me to Cerebral Palsy Sport (CPS). She felt it was important for me to have some positive role models, and meet other disabled people.

I developed a love for sprinting, having been involved with several taster days with some brilliant coaches and local disability athletics competitions in the North East.

I was encouraged with support from some great coaches involved with CPS to join a local athletics club, as I was showing real promise. We drove 25 miles to the athletics stadium to see about joining a club. The first sprints coach I approached at the club told me that he ‘would love to help me, but he couldn’t as he ‘hadn’t done the disability athletics training course’. He suggested that I went to the throws coach at the club instead, as he had done the course!

I was confused by this. I needed him to look at me with his ‘sprints coach head on’. I needed him to understand and help me… a young person who was mad keen on sprinting. Instead all he saw was a disabled person. I didn’t need someone with a knowledge of CP and how it affected me (I had that!).

Luckily the track had two athletics clubs operating at the same time, so instead of going home I walked across the track to the other club, who took me in and supported me into a sprints group.

Over 13 years, I became World and Paralympic Champion in 200m, and World Record Holder in 400m. I completed in three Paralympic Games (Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000), three World Championships and several European Championships too. At the end of my career, I was part of a great supportive club: Mansfield Harriers & AC in Nottinghamshire. 

Esther, fifth from right, winning gold in the T38 400m in Barcelona in 69.92 seconds (a world record time)

When I finished competing I was recruited into coaching and supporting the World Class Performance Disability Sprints Squad of UK Athletics, and was a team coach at several European and World Championships and Athens Paralympics in 2004.

When I retired, I was supported into a career in coach development. Not only have I forged a career in sport because of athletics, but I also met my husband as result of athletics and we now have two children.

I cannot imagine my life without athletics, and the opportunities that have arisen because of the people that have supported me. But early negative experiences nearly had me excluded completely from sport. I could have very easily thought sport wasn’t for someone like me.

We asked Esther what success would look like to her from a coaching perspective?

It is over 20 years after my story began and we know that disabled people are still under-represented in sport and physical activity. We also know that the coaching workforce is still not confident working with disabled people.

Society needs to do more to ensure that disabled people can access all elements of sport and physical activity as part of a full life. We need to work to understand and remove all the barriers (perceived and actual) that disabled people face getting into sport and physical activity.

Through the development of the Professional Standards for coaching and the coach development workforce, the industry has a real opportunity to address the ‘fear factor’ that still exists within the workforce around working with/including disabled people.

I want to see a set of Professional Standards/qualifications that supports and develops all the coaching workforce to be able to confidently work with the person in front of them, irrespective of who they are, as an integral part of all qualifications and training produced. 

Coaches need to understand and be confident with the knowledge that a good coach can be a good coach to anyone.  

Additional development opportunities and training should be provided to all coaches to help them get better at what they do, but a perceived lack of knowledge or training should not block someone’s entry into sport or physical activity, or their opportunities to flourish. 

My story has illustrated how meaningful and life-changing sport (through the people who supported me) can be. Everyone should have the opportunity to benefit from coaching and coaches the same way I did.

Guide to Becoming a More Inclusive Coach

We clear up some common misconceptions around the word ‘inclusion’, detail the tremendous benefits of inclusive practice and provide some everyday examples of inclusive coaching

Read it now

Voices of Incredible People

Read the coaching stories of the other five VIPs who spoke at the Coaching Plan for England and Diversity Event

Six of the best

Related Learning

  • Inclusive Activity Programme face-to-face workshop

  • How to Coach Disabled People in Sport

  • Equity in Your Coaching


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