Sporting Opportunities for Children with Disabilities

Emily Sutton by Emily Sutton Additional Needs

Emily Sutton

Emily Sutton

I was launched into the world of special needs on New Year's Eve 2012, on the birth of my son, Jenson. He is fabulous, sprightly and loving, and ha...

Sporting Opportunities for Children with Disabilities

I have two boys, both of whom love sport. My seven-year-old is a competitive tennis player and academy football player, who trains and competes on most weekdays and weekends.

My ten-year-old loves all and any physical activities on land and water, loves learning new skills, and loves being around people. He also has disabilities.

The opportunities for my younger son are boundless. Sadly, the opportunities for my older son are less forthcoming.

I know this is a common theme for children with disabilities, and I understand why. I believe there are a few key factors that contribute to the lack of sports clubs or sessions for people with additional needs, and I have been considering what they are, and what could be done to improve the situation, so that more young people with disabilities can experience the fun and benefits that their siblings enjoy.

Cost plays a major part.

Because of the needs of the individuals involved, to facilitate activities it requires either a lower number of participants (less revenue for the club) or a higher number of staff (more expenses on wages). Either way, without an abundance of experienced and reliable volunteers, the activity is likely to be less financially viable.

Willingness is critical! To make for a successful activity, it requires staff and volunteers who have a passion for teaching children who are different, who are not going to be the next sporting star, but who are going to enjoy it in their own special way. Unfortunately, sports leaders can more often be geared towards developing talent, rather than facilitating opportunity, while the currency of sporting venues is often that of profit rather than fun.

Equipment can be costly too! Specialist equipment is sometimes needed for people with additional needs, which is not readily available. Everything from swimming pool hoists to specialist wheelchairs for tennis/basketball etc, and all the little purchases and adaptions in between.

Training and experience can be a barrier.

Staff may need additional training to deliver sport sessions for people with disabilities, or may feel they lack competency in understanding how to interact with children with conditions such as autism, learning disabilities, hearing or sight impairments, for example.

But what are sporting bodies doing to combat the distinct lack of provision at grassroots level for children with disabilities? Some national schemes are in place, such as some funding initiatives across the Football Association, and grants available to sporting groups via Sport England. However, I don’t personally see this translating to any infrastructural increase in provision that is readily accessible in our area.

As a parent at the forefront of seeking out disability sports for young people, and as a member of a community where I know many others in the same situation, it appears that there remains a noticeable void in opportunities. But here’s the positive bit. Personally, for my family, we have directly benefitted from some amazing goodwill incentives and individuals who have gone above and beyond to fill the void.

Here are some good news stories!

My tennis-crazy son’s Head Coach picked up on how wonderful it would be for both brothers to be able to enjoy tennis at the same setting, and he crafted a new inclusive weekly tennis session for a small group of children with learning and other disabilities to attend. The children play tennis-themed games, undertake drills and skills, and have a lovely and relaxed tennis session with one of the inclusive coaches. I suspect that the club makes a loss on this session, due to the low number of participants, but despite this they appear committed to the cause and all families involved are truly grateful. A PE teacher from my son’s specialist school gives up his Sunday mornings to run a British Athletics-affiliated disability athletics session.

They have fundraised vast amounts of money for the costly equipment needed for physically disabled athletes to race on the track.

This wonderful group has afforded many children the opportunity to access adaptive racing and running who would never otherwise have had this chance, and have even taken some children to competition level.

Up until 2022 my husband ran a disability football group which was conceived through the lack of such opportunities in our area for disabled children to play football alongside their siblings. In our area there was provision for disability football through our local football club, but we noticed that there was limited provision for children with learning difficulties, neurodivergence, or indeed for children to play football alongside their siblings. The group was hugely popular, and my husband is hoping to re-start a similar group again sometime soon.

I would love to see more done to address the scarcity of sporting opportunities for young people who cannot access mainstream sports clubs and sessions. I’d love to hear some good news stories about individuals and clubs that have gone above and beyond to facilitate opportunities!

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