The Art of Coaching a Special Needs Athlete

Feb 15, 2011
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Last week I wrote a blog about the application of the principles of “The Tripod Project”. This is something that identified three themes that supported the development of an athlete (or student): the exercise program’s “content”, the skill of the coach / teacher in delivering the content (pedagogy), and the importance of  the athlete – coach relationship. Over the next weeks I will post blogs on each of these themes starting today with “content”.

A few days ago I was browsing the magazine stands at our local bookstore. I noted the large number of health and fitness magazines that carried bold slogans proclaiming the benefits of “amazing exercise / weight loss programs.”  I scanned a few of the articles for details. Typically, they presented a linear logic: Problem -you want to become fitter / lose weight  – Solution – this program will achieve your goals – Happiness – by following this program, the following good things will happen to you… The programs then lay out exercise activities for you to follow week after week. The magazine then usually features photos of “before and after” shots of successful adherents to the program.  Noble as their intentions may be, I replaced the magazines on the stand thinking: Do any of these programs actually work?

I believe that one of the difficulties with prescriptive exercise programs – whether they are drawn from magazines or purchased on-line is that they find it difficult to adapt to our changing personal circumstances. One nasty head cold and your program is set back a few days. A bout of fatigue and our motivation for exercise can waver. These programs make the assumption that we can stay constant and true on this path of self-improvement. Of course, we all know that seldom happens.

There is no “one size is fits all” approach when designing the “content” of exercise; each of us has our own interests and exercise preferences. We all react in different ways to exercise; this is especially true with special needs athletes who may also have to deal with health related challenges. Clearly, helping someone to achieve their exercise goals is an adaptive art, it is not an exact science that can be pulled off the pages of a generic health magazine. I believe exercise plans should be built around the athlete’s needs and capabilities, then frequently modified according to the athlete’s progress – or lack of it.

In next week’s blog, I will discuss some exercise principles that coaches should consider as they design exercise programs for their special needs athlete.

Author: Gary Barber