Why coach special needs athletes?

Jan 24, 2011
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I want you to think about your favorite PE teacher or sports coach. What was it about that person that made sport fun? How did they make you feel like you were a valued member of the team? Was it the way that they taught you? Perhaps they had a lively almost comical style that made you laugh. Did they make you feel that it was okay to make mistakes in practices?  Did you like that coach because they would not allow teammates to tease you?

Now think about the teacher that made you dread sports. Was it their manner of interaction with you or their coaching techniques that made you feel insecure or unwelcomed?  Did the coach allow your teammates to be disrespectful to you?  Did they set unrealistic goals and expectations for you?

As a coach, self reflection about your sporting experiences and your motives for participation can be a valuable exercise, but how will this be beneficial for young athletes with disabilities?

I often have been asked by schools or sports organisations to help them identify and resolve student – teacher / coach conflicts. Very often the problem is centered on differences between the coaches’ and young athlete’s motives for participation. The coach may have assumed that winning was important when the athletes were more focused on the social aspects of the sport. Not every young athlete is motivated by the desire to compete or win. Some children may just want to play the game without scores being kept. Other students may want to participate because they just like being with their friends.

If you are thinking about working with young athletes who have disabilities, ask them why they are participating. What are their goals? What can you do to help them facilitate these goals? What barriers do they face? Etc.  Then consider why you want to coach. Are you focused on developing the child respecting and embracing their various needs?

If you cross reference their answers with your own reasons for coaching, your compatibility to coach this athlete will be revealed.

Author: Gary Barber



  • ethan1066

    sports coaching is an on-going professional relationship that guides individuals through a process that facilitates deep exploration and personal and professional discovery.http://www.fresh-coaching.es/

  • Kathysulzer

    Great article! Too bad you are in Canada. My 15 year old nephew is autistic and athletic. We are so frustrated in finding a coach to assist with sports, primarily a running coach. Where are they in Tampa, FL????? From the local YMCA to the University sports programs, they have all been unsuccessful for sports training for running, swimming, etc. Does anyone know of a dedicated individual who can work with an athletic teenager? I am going to order Gary’s books after I leave this site.