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Coaching Disabled People: What Coaches Need to Know

Tips for including disabled people in your sessions

Participation statistics tell us that there is still much work to be done to support disabled people in sport. The number of disabled people taking part in sport or physical activity is significantly lower across all age groups than the overall population.

And the proportion of disabled people receiving tuition or coaching is lower than the overall population.

Inspire and motivate disabled people to continue to play sport and take part in physical activity with the help of this advice.

Tips are broken down into useful sections – but remember to apply them alongside these underpinning guidelines:

  • Involve disabled people in all of your sessions.
  • Recognise a disabled athlete as an individual, not an impairment.
  • Have a shared vision with your participants in terms of coaching goals and expectations. Communicate and work together to achieve them.
  • Talk to your disabled participants about their impairment to plan effective coaching sessions and adapt practices.
  • Know the sport you coach. Have a passion to develop yourself as a coach.
  • A warm welcome goes a long way. Confidently approach your participant and talk to them about what experience they have had, and what they want to get out of your sessions.
  • How do disabled people get to hear about your coaching sessions? You could advertise your sessions via the Internet and local social networks supporting disabled people (try your local Active Partnership).
  • If you have not coached disabled people before, be open-minded and see it as an opportunity to extend your experiences on your road to becoming a better coach.
  • When playing sport or being active, some disabled people may prefer to be with other disabled people. Others may prefer to be coached together with disabled and non-disabled people. Get to know what other opportunities are available locally, so you can signpost people if necessary.
  • Check your coaching venue is accessible (contact the Activity Alliance for more details). It’s not just about ramps and lifts!
  • Don’t assume you can’t coach disabled people. As well as your previous coaching experiences, a willingness and open mind are important qualities that will help you to coach disabled athletes.
  • Not all disabled people want to only participate with other disabled people. Welcome more disabled people into your coaching sessions.
  • Don’t learn everything you can about every impairment. Talk to the individual and adapt your session – they have the best knowledge of what their body can do.
  • If an activity isn’t working for everyone, adapt it. Use the great coaching knowledge you have.
  • Don’t hide in your shell. Talk to, and learn from, other coaches and share your experiences and ideas about coaching disabled athletes.
  • Don’t get hung up on labels (for example, someone has CP; someone else has ADHD). See through the label and talk to the person.
  • Remember, we are all individuals. One disabled person will not be the same as another, so coach the individual not the impairment.
  • Remember to develop your sport-specific technical knowledge as well as your understanding of disability. This will help you to work more effectively with disabled people.
  • Communicate continually with everyone in your session and get their views on how it went at the end.
  • Network with other coaches and share your experiences or ideas for coaching disabled participants. Check with your Active Partnership when the next coaching forum or conference is being held.
  • Develop a better understanding of how your sport (eg rules and equipment) can be adapted for people with different impairments. Try a UK Coaching workshop to learn more about adapting sport appropriately for disabled people, coaching disabled people, or communicating effectively with deaf people in sport.The workshops also provide a great opportunity to talk to other coaches.
  • Know where you can go locally (eg contact your Active Partnership or governing body of sport disability/equity development officer, or visit a local disability sports club) for further support.
  • The National Disability Sport Organisations (NDSO) can also help. Contact information on this Activity Alliance website page.

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This online training module will help you to learn about making physical activity inclusive and accessible to everyone. Learn in your own time and at your own pace.

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Related Resources

  • Keeping Deaf and Disabled Children Safe in Sport

  • Inclusive Activity Programme (Online Classroom)

  • Coaching People with a Visual Impairment


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