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You may be surprised to learn that as many as 6.9 million people of working age in the UK have a disability.
That’s 19% – nearly one in five. But when you look at the figures for UK sports coaches, the percentage who are disabled drops to 6%. And the number who have gained a qualification in sports coaching since 2009 is only 2%.
So how can these discrepancies be addressed? BBC Get Inspired asked three advocates of disability sports coaching what progress has been made and what still needs to be done.
Confidence for all – Jack Edgar
Based at Basildon Sporting Village in Essex, Jack Edgar is the head coach of Sport for Confidence, an organisation that offers sports coaching to people with mental illness, and physical and learning disabilities. It also integrates the work of healthcare professionals into the sport and leisure industry, as Jack explains…
“When I was 18, I was working as a multi-sports coach and was given the chance to work with occupational therapist Lyndsey Barrett.
“That was the beginning of Sport for Confidence and now I run the sessions as a coach, supported by health professionals and working to help our clients develop a range of skills, both physical and social.
“We’re making huge strides, bringing together professionals from health, sport and leisure. One participant is a young lady called Donna Robinson, who has cerebral palsy.
“Two years ago, Donna was attending our sessions as a participant and showed interest in becoming a coach or volunteer. In response to her enthusiasm, we created a sports programme called Pathway to Coaching, helping people with disability, like Donna, to achieve their coaching goals.
“We run several boccia sessions a week. Donna completed her Pathway to Coaching course and a boccia leader’s course. Now she is on board as a member of the coaching staff.
“We’re working hard to attract more leisure operator partners so we can take this model to new parts of the community. We also work with leisure centres to train staff and help them become more disability friendly.
“When some of our participants first attend, they’re too anxious even to come into the hall. But we’re seeing a huge difference in people. It’s a big team effort but it really works.”
It was now or never – Bisi Imafidon
Most people want to relax after a hard day at work, but not Bisi Imafidon. Bisi, 50, is a school manager in Newham, but also coaches running, basketball, goalball, boccia, swimming and more…
“When I was growing up I had no interest in sport or PE and only got into keeping fit after I had children. I joined my local running club, which was all volunteers. At the time I was working in a bank but was made redundant and it was a ‘now or never’ moment.
“In 2009 I took my level one coaching qualification in running and it just built from there. I was putting on sessions and got lots of encouragement and good feedback from the members.
“I knew how welcome the coaches had made me feel, never having done any running before. So it was really giving back.
“My specialism in disability coaching has always been mental health and I have quite a lot of people who have had issues with mental health and the effects of medication.
“I know what impact being active has made on my life and those of the people I’ve met. And you don’t have to be sporty.
“One thing I do a lot is hula-hooping because it’s active but it’s a really good way to bridge the gap between sport and non-sport, disability and non-disability.
“That sends a really powerful message that you have those different groups working and playing together side by side.”
Hoops and dreams – Anna Jackson
Anna Jackson played 70 times for the GB wheelchair basketball team before retiring from elite competition in 2008. She has since dedicated herself to coaching the next generation of players – and up-and-coming coaches – from her base at Cheshire Phoenix Basketball Club in Ellesmere Port. This is her coaching story…
“I was a hockey player and tennis player and always enjoyed helping other people learn to play. Then I started having problems with my knees and had to give up sport on foot but discovered wheelchair basketball.
“Almost right away I put the coaching skills I had learned from other sports into wheelchair basketball. So for me it was always a natural progression.
“Wheelchair basketball changed my life and I probably wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t discovered that sport. If I can give a taste of that to other people, that would be amazing.
“Perceptions of disability sport are changing. I first noticed that in Sydney in 2000 at the Paralympics. For them it was just about sport. It’s starting to happen over here, but I think that Australian attitude was the catalyst.
“Now it’s about finding the sports coaches out there who have disabilities and telling people about them. I’m a tutor for British Wheelchair Basketball and giving all my players aged over 14 the chance to do a leadership course – right from youngsters with quite severe physical disabilities to a older players who have additional needs because of autism and ADHD.
“I want them to succeed and get that qualification and I’m in a place to help them do just that.”
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