Sport for all

Richard Stedeford, Sports Coordinator at ISA National Sports, looks at the importance of increasing sporting opportunities for kids with a disability

Since 2012, Sport England has made disability sport a key focus and they currently invest over £170m in developing opportunities for individuals with a disability. In line with this objective, the Independent Schools Association (ISA) has created a vision to help achieve this within school sport, on a national scale. At ISA, we’re looking to increase opportunities for children with a disability, to represent their school at a sporting event. To initiate this, the ISA National Swimming Finals will now include multiple disability races, providing more children with the opportunity to swim at the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic pool

We understand that the pool of children with a disability in independent schools is very small (70% of disabled people are over 50) but this must not mean that they are ignored. The immediate impact of sports participation is, of course, inclusion, social, psychological and physical development but looking ahead, educating children of these opportunities can significantly help these individuals as they develop through adulthood. In 2012, under 20% of people with a disability were recorded as taking part in sport. Therefore, a child’s education and awareness of opportunities but also enthusiasm to remain physically active through fun and engaging sport, is fundamental for their development. It would certainly be interesting to see what the figures are now in 2017, but regardless, ISA is motivated to help increase opportunities. 

It’s important to recognise that physical activity for disabled children should come at many different levels. Due to the varying types of disability, physical activity opportunities can come in many different forms from play type activities all the way up to elite international sport. 

In its very name and definition, disability is misleading, leading people to have a pre-conceived understanding that a person is not able to do a particular task or perform a certain skill. Over the past two decades, inspirational individuals have found a way to eradicate this pre-conception and help the public see more clearly. A disability is not a lack of ability, more a creation of man; after all, it’s humans who built steps for people to climb. 

Opportunities for inclusive sports participation continue to defy the assumption of ‘disability’. A brilliant example of this is through Gary Clarke, a disabled strongman from Somerset. Gary created the first-ever UK Disabled Strongman Competition, a sport regularly associated with men, stacked from head to toe with enormous muscles. Traditional events such as lifting Atlas stones are adapted to suit the individual athlete but the achievements are incredible.

Another example is the feat of John Willis, CEO of Power2Inspire, whose Road to Rio challenge saw him undertake 34 Olympic and Paralympic events. John was born without forearms or lower legs and he was inspired to prove that disability does not mean certain activities cannot be performed. To achieve this, sports such as badminton and judo were adapted so that John could participate. During his time undertaking the Road to Rio challenge, John also found time to speak at the ISA Sports Conference, inspiring all delegates to introduce inclusive sports into each of their respective schools. 


These are excellent examples of how adaptive sport is, and why it has been proven to be an effective facility for positive development, not just physically but in all areas of life. In school PE & Sport, one of the many challenges is, how can we adapt a lesson so that every child benefits, regardless of ability or preferred learning style? The sport of baskin is a great example of how a sport can be adapted so that it can be fully inclusive. Invented in Cremona, Italy in 2003, baskin is an adapted version of basketball whose objective is to create an activity that anyone can participate in together, regardless of common barriers such as gender or disability. Elements of the full game are adjusted so that it is more accessible for all. For example, there are two nets at each end which are positioned at different heights, the ball is smaller and each player is given varying roles, appropriate to each individual. 

It is our responsibility to ensure that humans are treated equally and this must start from an early age. At ISA, we will endeavour to achieve this and hope that we manage to engage as many children as possible by continuously enhancing and adapting sporting opportunities. This will begin on Sunday 21 January at the London Aquatics Centre where the ISA National Swimming Finals will take place. Disabled swimmers from across the country will have the opportunity to swim in the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic pool, in a fully inclusive national schools event. We hope this will inspire everyone to continue using sport for positive development, ensuring that all children receive equal opportunities.  


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