Just because children have special needs it doesn’t mean that they can’t take part in sport. In fact, evidence suggests that sports activities are extremely beneficial to children with special needs, particularly when it comes to coordination, spatial awareness and, above all, confidence. To reap all of these rewards, however, special needs kids need a fully qualified, passionate and dedicated coach.
Thanks to stars like Oscar Pistorius and Aimee Mullins, people are starting to recognise the prowess of disabled athletes, and also to recognise the importance of investing in programs to encourage sports development for people with disabilities and special needs.
Various organisations are working hard to promote sports for special needs in their countries, but few work as hard as Sports CONNECT, which is funded by the Australian Sports Commission.
According to the official website:
Sports CONNECT is a national framework that develops pathways for people with disability to get involved in sport, by creating and developing relationships between sports and disability organisations.
It also aims to increase awareness of the benefits that sports activities have for children and adults with special needs, not to mention the benefits for coaches and supporters. The Sports CONNECT Network (SCN) includes all the national and regional partners who work together to support and promote sporting opportunities for the disabled through education, funding and training.
Sports Ability is part of the Sports CONNECT initiative. It’s more specific aim is to enable people and organisations that already offer sports activities to expand their facilities to include people with special needs. It also intends to increase interaction between people with and without disabilities on various sports fields.
There is also Sports Ability 2, which adds to and builds on the offerings from the first Sports Ability program and includes additional equipment for a variety of special needs games, additional resource material and more training for participants and coaching staff.
Games in the Sports Ability programs include three Paralympic sports (Boccia, Goalball and Sitting volleyball) and other special needs activities designed to improve coordination and control and encourage team work (table cricket, hockey and specially adapted indigenous games).
Sports CONNECT courses
Sports CONNECT offers a variety of courses for people with special needs who want to learn more about the sports available to them, as well as anyone who wants to become a special needs sports coach. The training modules available cover things like general physical activity, physical education, disability sport classifications, inclusive coaching (with abled and disabled people) and sports ability games.
TAFE Sports Courses
If you want to get a start in sports coaching, you can always register for a TAFE course that will serve as a pathway to a university degree and, potentially, a career as a special needs sports coach.
- Certificate II in Sport (Coaching) forms part of the TAFE Sport Industry Training Package and includes things like first aid, industry knowledge, accepted coaching practices and coaching styles and legal and ethical responsibilities.
- Certificate IV in Sport (Coaching) is designed for people who already have coaching jobs and who are looking to further their careers and improve their skills. It includes tailoring coaching techniques and approaches to suit individual athletes, long-term planning, developing high performance training programs and more in-depth sports first aid skills.
- Bachelor of Sport Coaching, which was developed in conjunction with the Australian Sports Commission and which includes two areas of specialisation: Sports Science Specialisation and Physical Education Specialisation.
Various postgraduate sports coaching degrees, qualifications and certifications are also available from universities around Australia.
Bear in mind that becoming a sports coach for special needs children requires a lot more than a couple of training courses and certificates. Special needs coaches need to have infinite patience with the children and adults in their care; they need to be flexible and adaptable; and they need to know the limitations of each disability; but above all they need to respect their charges.