Group of special needs girls showing team spirit

Couch Potato or Sporting Hero – Why We Should All Get Active

The benefits of sport are there for all of us to see. Apart from the obvious enrichment of our health, fitness and wellbeing, there is the social aspect too, where you can mix with likeminded souls, make new friends and enjoy the communal experience of participation.

For those with a learning disability however, sport that is truly inclusive can be difficult to access. There are several barriers, such as social isolation, lack of money, no transport, or reliance on support; which in turn means that so many people are extremely inactive. When these obstacles are overcome though, sport can have a very real and positive impact on lives. People with a learning disability have a life expectancy which is years below the national average and sport can help to change that.

Talkback have recently launched the Nclude Sports Academy, with the aim to promote an active lifestyle to help individuals live a healthier life, make friends, learn new skills and improve their self-esteem. Ateam of trained coaches work alongside local sporting partners in the community to deliver a truly inclusive programme.  All sports are adapted to enable everyone to participate and include badminton, boccia, seated volleyball, cricket, tennis, climbing, swimming and futsball. Nclude are also developing a programme for some of their members with a learning disability who want to become sports coaches.

The Sports Academy is already reaping rewards, with encouraging feedback from members and staff. A young man had been meaning to join a gym, but didn’t have the confidence to do it alone. After a few supported group sessions, he has joined independently and plans to travel there unaided after some successful travel training. A lady in a wheelchair gained confidence when taken to a place where there were a number of other wheelchair users joining in sport. Group sports sessions involve many different personalities and abilities. Some, who are initially introverted, come out of their shell and grow in confidence, communication skills and ability.

Sport can have a massive impact on personal, physical and mental health. One particular student suffered from very high anxiety. He tended to pace a lot and was visibly anxious. This young person had the opportunity to participate in a number of different activities, such as badminton, cricket, trampoline and tennis; during which he had a smile on his face and was noticeably happier and calmer.

Inside of us all there is a sporting hero waiting to get out. We’d all like to be a Lionel Messi, Mo Farah or Serena Williams but, for the vast majority of us, they inhabit a different planet. Compared to them we are but dithering, uncoordinated amateurs; but that shouldn’t stop us taking part and enjoying the exhilaration and sheer joy of sport. Regardless of our ability or disability it’s all about inclusion and giving everyone a sporting chance.

(Behind every great programme there is a great team led by a person of passion – Helen Krauze, the Sports Academy trailblazer. Thanks to Helen and Kellie Killeen for their input into this article).

Tony Flower