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Coaching Para Athletes


What are some of the ways you encourage your athletes to be unconquerable?
How do you contribute to increasing the support and awareness of adaptive sports?

Many people believe that coaching a person with a disability is more difficult than coaching a person who is able-bodied. In fact, coaching a person with a disability is the same as coaching a person who is able-bodied. It takes knowledge and passion for sport, along with an understanding of someone’s capabilities and knowing how to help them achieve a goal that they’ve set out to accomplish. As para sport and the awareness of inclusion continue to grow there becomes a greater need for coaching at all levels.

With the Para Pan Am Games held in Toronto last year, the Rio Paralympics finishing last month and now the Invictus Games for ill and injured service members and veterans coming to Toronto in September of next year, the continued exposure of the impact sport has had on our para-athletes continues to increase.

Adaptive sport competitions, like those listed above, showcase the mental strength, and physical preparation of para-athletes. These games also provide future para-athletes with something to strive for while improving their quality of life. As coaches, it is our duty to mentor and push these individuals with the same passion as any other athlete we coach.

  1. 1. Understand the Person

Just like any other athlete, learning who they are as a person will help you figure out how they need to be coached. Are they interested in the competitive or recreational stream? What are their goals? Do they believe in themselves? Understand how they obtained their disability, was it something they born with it or did they acquire it later in life? This will help determine other factors, whether mental or physical that may be hindering their progression. Knowing your athlete as a whole person shows them that you truly care.

For some great examples of coaches who have demonstrated this, check out the 2016 Ontario Coaching Excellence Awards Winners videos here.

  1. 2. Educate Yourself

Every athlete’s disability is different and it’s important for you to understand how they will develop within their sport. The Long-Term Athlete Development: Athletes with a Disability model has very similar stages as the non-disabled athletes. The two exceptions to this model are that the ages and rate of progress may vary due to their disability, and that there are an additional 2 stages to the model: The Awareness stage (having those born with or acquire the disability be aware of the sport) and the First Contact/ Recruitment stage (creating a positive environment to retain these athletes in the sport). Developing a better understanding of their disability will assist in planning practices and setting realistic goals, especially for early specialization sports. You don’t want to begin teaching them more complex skills when their fundamental movement skills have not yet been mastered.

  1. 3. Expose them to other Athletes

Encourage your athletes to volunteer at the numerous major games that are held each year around Ontario. Getting involved not only gives them a chance to give back to their sport or to a great cause, but it also provides them with the opportunity to see and sometimes meet athletes at a higher competitive level to re-instill the idea that they can make it as well. Share monthly stories about athletes they can relate to who have faced difficulties and overcame them with hard work, dedication and patience. It becomes especially useful for those “I give up” moments. Additionally, take the time to go out and watch major games as a group. This will further foster the coach-athlete relationship and even generate more awareness for other sports.

**Whether you’re a first time coach looking to help out and get involved in your community or an experienced coach looking to help elite athletes reach the Paralympic podium, ParaSport Ontario has a spot for you. For more information follow this link.

**Want to see a list of sports that will be at the 2017 Canada Games? Click for more information.

**To see how the Invictus Games has impacted those who have served for our country click here.

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Coach Responses

How do you develop your para-athletes?

What are some of the ways you encourage them to be unconquerable? How do you contribute to increasing the support and awareness of adaptive sports?

Share your tips and best practices!

Coach Michael – Swimming – Oshawa – 4 Years 

“…I have found that keeping open lines of communication with both the athlete and their parents (depending on the age of the athlete) provides the best possible outcomes. When I first started coaching para-athletes I wasn’t always sure what kind of support they needed. After working with my swimmers for a number of years I’ve learned that asking them what they need is best. Being open to learning new things and modifying your current coaching tactics can go a long way to making an athlete feel empowered and appreciated both in and out of the pool…”

Coach Katie – Basketball – Toronto – 6 Years

“…In my experience with para-athletes, they want to be worked just as hard as able-bodied athletes. By encouraging them to work at their best, they prove to themselves that they can work just as hard as their counterparts. Once the basic skills are in place and the athlete is working to go harder, faster, stronger it’s easy to forget they are different at all. I like to maintain the basic principles of respect, dignity and trust with all my athletes- para or able-bodied…”

Coach Lucy – Athletics – Toronto – 11 Years

“…We as coaches see the differences, but kids just want to be kids. They want to play the same games, do the same drills and race just like everyone else. If they think they can do it, why do we doubt or hinder them? Is it a doubt within ourselves? We as coaches have a duty to be inclusive, adaptable and push the limits for our athletes. Parents of para-athlete want the same treatment we give everyone else. So next time do not doubt them or create something special for them. Let them be who they are. Let them show you what they can do…”

Coach Gord – Hockey – Ottawa – 9 Years

“…Working with para-athletes has made me a better coach. We often get into grooves of doing and saying the same things, but working with para-athletes provides you with the opportunity to re-develop old ideas and challenge you to be better. These athletes are some of the most dedicated and hard-working individuals I have ever worked with, and their “differences” only make me a better coach for everyone, able-bodied and para-athletes…”

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