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Accessible Coaching: How to adapt your coaching to be more inclusive

As a coach you may encounter working with an athlete with a disability, visible or non-visible. Many athletes encounter barriers to participation in sport that can be removed or reduced with some education, communication and the action of making  (even small) changes to your team and/or club.

In some instances, coaches may not be aware an athlete has a disability, particularly if the athlete has an ‘invisible’ impairment or disability. It is important, as coaches, to develop rapport and communication with all athletes – this creates an open environment where athletes will feel comfortable communicating any non-visible disabilities they may have.

Here are some classifications of impairments and disabilities:

•             Spinal cord injury

•             Neurological

•             Amputee

•             Blind/vision impaired

•             Cognitive/intellectual

•             Deaf/hearing impaired

Athletes with disabilities in sport are categorised into six barrier groups: architectural, physical, policy/practice, attitudinal, information/communication and technological. As a coach, understanding which category an athlete with a disability falls into will help you adapt your approach accordingly.

Some general tips to create an inclusive environment:

  • Don’t rely on assumptions and expectations – when unsure ask questions to ensure safety and quality experiences
  • If you find yourself working outside your area of expertise and comfort - ask questions!
  • Ask questions of participants, but also of your network
  • No need to reinvent the wheel
  • Trust yourself.  There are multiple things at play, not just disability.  You are the expert in your sport/coaching
  • Be accommodating – work with the athlete and share expertise
  • Be technically adaptable – do you need to adjust your technical delivery
  • Be sincere, genuine – it’s the intention that really counts

A great tip to remember is: you are a qualified coach, this is sport and these are all athletes.  Set the tone of your sport environment as soon as possible and be a leader in inclusion for your athletes.