Reaching Sporting excellence is a goal available to all Australians regardless of age, gender or mobility level. Australian team sports for people with disability is growing at fantastic speed and the degree of participation is a testament to the fighting spirit of a famous sporting nation. The opportunities and challenges for athletes with disabilities in this country are both many and very real. The key message is inclusion while maintaining the integrity of the activity in question.
Being inclusive in homegrown sport is about providing a range of options to cater for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds in the most appropriate manner possible. Inclusion encompasses a broad range of options in many different settings. Sometimes this may mean modifying a sport to provide a more appropriate version for particular participants. Modifying the rules or even the competition structure of a sport is nothing new. Most national sporting organisations in Australia provide modified versions of sports for their junior program, making the sport more inclusive, safe and fun for younger players.
Modifying sport to include people with disability is no different. In some situations, people with disability can be included with no modifications at all, and in other situations modifications may be needed. Modifications may only be minor, such as a change in a rule or piece of equipment which is of course straightforward, yet may provide significant assistance to an individual. Often major modifications are necessary, particularly for people with high support needs. Rather than modify the game’s rules or equipment for everybody just to include one person, it may only require a change for that person and depending on the extent of the change, it can either be done on the spot or require extensive planning.
Not all disabled sports are adapted however, several sports that have been specifically created for persons with a disability have no equivalent in able bodied sports. Sports for those with disabilities exist in four categories, physical, mental, permanent and temporary. In addition, organized sport for athletes with a disability will generally be divided into three broad disability groups: the deaf, people with physical disabilities, and people with intellectual disabilities. Each group has a distinct history, organization, competition program, and approach to sport.
The TREE model is a popular initiative in accordance with these principles by embracing the four essential elements of teaching style, rules, equipment and environment. Teaching style refers to the way the sport or activity is communicated to the participants. The way an activity is delivered can have a significant impact on how inclusive it is. Strategies you may use include, being aware of all the participants in your group, ensuring participants are correctly positioned (for example, within visual range), using appropriate language for the group, using visual aids and demonstrations, using a buddy system, using appropriate physical assistance — guide a participant’s body parts through a movement and keeping instructions short and to the point while checking for understanding.
Rules may be simplified or changed and then reintroduced as skill levels increase, for example, allowing for more bounces in a game such as tennis or table tennis, allowing for multiple hits in a sport such as volleyball, having a greater number of players on a team to reduce the amount of activity required by each player, reducing the amount of players to allow greater freedom of movement, regularly substituting players, allowing substitute runners in sports such as softball and cricket or shortening the distance the hitter needs to run to be safe.
Strategies to best utilise equipment may include using lighter bats or racquets or shorter handles, lighter, bigger or slower bouncing balls, balls with bells inside and equipment that contrasts with the playing area such as white markers on grass or fluorescent balls. Strategies to best modify playing environment may include reducing the size of the court or playing area, using a smooth or indoor surface rather than grass, lowering net heights in sports such as volleyball or tennis, using zones within the playing area and minimising distractions in the surrounding area.
Changes do not have to be permanent, some may be phased out over time as skills and confidence increase. Disability Sports Australia is Australia’s peak national body representing athletes with a physical disability. Formerly known as Australian Athletes with a Disability, it changed its name to Disability Sports Australia during 2013. The change reflects a contemporary evolution and vital work achieved in engaging people of all abilities across Australia from grass roots to elite level athletes who compete or work in sporting endeavours.