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19 Apr 2018 873
Supporting Specific Needs

My Coaching Story... Karate for Disabled People

Many people get into coaching because they are inspired by something (or someone) to make a positive impact on other people's lives. Guest author Ray Sweeney reflects on his own journey into coaching

How did you get into coaching? How does anyone get into coaching? As with many coaches, Ray Sweeney got into coaching through the passion of the sport. His life experience of living and working in Spain has led him to where he is today. He has identified a massive gap in the provision of coaches of disabled people in Karate. Ray is slowly turning into a one-man NGB to provide sport to disabled people in a sport that receives no funding from Sport England. This is his story.

Coaching: an escape route

I spent 27 years running businesses and doing work that paid very well but I hated almost every minute of it.  I attended my karate club up to six times per week which kept me going.  I was assistant coach and suddenly realised that I had a portable skill which could potentially earn me a living in a totally different way.

I decided to give up my job and move to Spain where I would coach karate and begin a new life.

Twelve years on, in our beautiful little coastal village of just 25,000 people, we had built the largest karate club in the Community of Valencia, a county with a population of 10 million people.

Part of the reason for our success in Spain was taking a step back and looking critically at the different reasons why children and adults start karate.  I made a shift towards coaching mind, body and spirit, as we say in karate; not just technique but the whole person

I believe that this kind of ‘mentoring’ is an important aspect of karate and fundamental to good coaching in any sport.  There is no doubt that part of my enthusiasm and success as a coach is due to the valuable sounding board and advice I receive from my own mentor and instructor.

Adults with alcoholism and mental illnesses were coming to the club in Spain and we began to see a steady increase in the number of children with disabilities and children from socially deprived backgrounds.  There is little social care in Spain and Social Services had begun to send people to us because of the successful outcomes we were having in improving the quality of life for many people.

As we trained more coaches we ensured that this same ethos was spread from the top down through our coaching programme.

Full circle

My older son is autistic and we returned to the UK last year to assure his continued education. During the summer, I taught at a ParAbility Day held at Blackbird Leys in Oxford, where I coached 55 children with mixed disabilities in small groups of between the ages of 6 and 10 for the whole day.  I enjoyed it immensely. I took advice and opened a disability karate club.

I soon discovered that it was to be the first karate club specifically for disabled people in England. I was unable to identify any help or support from the English Karate Federation so after identifying a need to develop this work further I looked to engage with local sports partnerships.

The project: Kickstart 100

Fortunately, Oxford Sports Council and Oxfordshire Sports Partnership were incredibly helpful, especially Margaret Stevens who helped launch the Pilot for our project, KickStart 100, which aimed to get 100 people with disabilities into karate by the end of 2013 and continue with sustained training.

I use the ‘hub and satellite’ model to give us the opportunity to promote social inclusion through joint events at the main hub, for example, training out of school hours during a summer programme or “celebration” event.

Teaching wheelchair users with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties, some of whom have very few movement skills is challenging. Yet it is these students who often show the greatest improvements.

They want to move because a movement such as punching a mitt is fun. Slowly and steadily they are encouraged to make different hand shapes to strike, and are encouraged to start kicking and even to count. 

We completed our target in March and every single athlete that started is still in training to date.

The laughter, excitement and massive leap in self-esteem are all the reward I need.

The project has provided the following quotes:

“We want to do more interesting things. We are very excited about karate and can’t stop talking about it. Ever since we went there we have been asking when we can do more karate.” (young athlete with severe and complex learning disability).

Even in the short time that our students have been having Karate lessons, there has been clear progress, both in behaviour and skills. Students are standing calmly, quietly and listening and following instructions....The instructor’s expectation is that they will participate, concentrate and improve their movements, and they are.... Students who have needed one to one supervision are capable of doing the class independently, without prompts from a support assistant. 

Assistant Head at a Special School.

What next?

Steady progress is now being made. To advance up the belt ranking system we have discussed replacing kicks with alternative techniques but adaptation is essential. We are also considering a classification system as a support for disabled students within the coloured belt grading syllabuses.

In view of the lack of funding nationally I am in the process of creating a charitable organisation and a Sport Plan and looking for more committee members that can help with the roll out of the KickStart 100 Projects. Good governance is essential.

The task in front of me and the new organisation is huge, but as Ron Cleere of the Judo Inclusion Commission told me: “No money, very little thanks, petty jealousy, obstacles everywhere, people trying to trip you up, people telling you it’s not karate….but you know it’s worth it.  And Ray……if you don’t do it, who will?”

The next two Projects have backing from Kent and Essex Sport Partnerships.  We have been invited to the Annual Conference on Disability Sport for NGBs in Bath.  Stoke Mandeville have asked us to teach two sessions per week at the stadium.

Mencap and Wheelpower have been very helpful offering advice and guidance.  Four Special Schools have been extremely supportive.  A disability syllabus has been written for wheelchair users and another has been written for people with learning difficulties based upon the syllabus for children which we used in Spain.

An artist has been commissioned to create a wordless pictorial version of the LD syllabus and a coaching course is in development.

Whether you live to be 50 or 100 makes no difference, if you made no difference in the world.

Ray Sweeney, 5th Dan Karate, Chair Special Olympics Oxfordshire & Oxfordshire Disability Sport Steering Committee

Related Learning

  • Inclusive Activity Programme face-to-face workshop

  • Keeping Deaf and Disabled Children Safe in Sport

  • Coaching Children 5-12: The Next Generation


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