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People with Special Needs and Sports

When we think of sports, the first typical thought is that of physical exercise. But if we were to look into all the studies and researches conducted in various parts of the world on Sports and its impacts, it will help us understand the relationship between the two even better. The list of benefits does not cease on physical well being but continues to include mental health, soft skills, sportsmanship spirit, motor skills and much more.

For instance, a student of mine who requires role modelling or visual cues works along with a peer for more organic learning of skills and the expected behaviors in a social setting. Or another student when sharing their ball with a peer for the game, builds trust, patience, empathy and turn taking. There are multiple ways how various parts of a sport can make an impact of one’s behavior.

Not to overlook the fact that physical fitness is a definitive positive outcome from engaging in sports, but for people with special needs, sports makes room to develop and improve many other skills as a holistic learning* (physical, psychological, creative, social, imaginative, intuitive, spiritual and intellectual).

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”

-World Health Organization

Understanding the impact of sports

Learning skills through sports and building on those to enhance and improve the quality of life is quintessential. It is always a good idea to try out different activities and sports to find what you are truly interested in to continue long term. Personal interest drives all individuals to develop consistency. Once you find what you are interested in, it will become a reinforcer for you to excel.

Let’s start off with the physiological benefits of sports considering individuals with disabilities are comparatively more susceptible to physical ailments*:

Range of Motion - Understanding the level of range of motion for an individual before jumping into a sport head on is crucial. We must not overlook the fact that we need to know our level of motion, strength and capacity and gradually build from there. Range of motion varies depending on the individual which makes it important to have individualized strategies for being involved long term.

Gross Motor skills - Participating in sports/physical activities lets the individuals work on their gross motor skills which constitutes using limbs and the body like throwing, kicking, catching, holding, passing etc. It helps exercise different body parts and make them more flexible thus, also increasing the range of motion

Physical fitness/activity - General physical fitness is improved for people involved in sports. For example it helps, manage the body weight better, support healthier metabolism, increase stamina, build stronger bones, muscles and joints, lower blood cholesterol and lower risk of type 2 diabetes and lower blood pressure.*

“In wheelchair sports, people thought athletes with disabilities were courageous and inspirational. They never give them credit for simply being competitive.”

- Jean Driscoll

Skills other than physical strength that are highlighted when people with disabilities are presented with opportunities to be involved in Sports would include the following:

Skill Building - When focusing on group sports, there are different soft skills that individuals pick up on. Soft skills, simply put would be “I am” statements or personal attributes that are honed through experiential learning. For example, “I am empathetic”, “I am confident”, “I am a team player”, “I have a positive attitude”, etc.

All these skills are always transferable. Given a different situation, these skills when nurtured, become second nature and contribute to the social development of the individual.

Team Play - Working in teams during sports activities/games strengthens the skills of working together in unity, learning to wait for your turn, trusting your judgement, problem solving and quick thinking in time sensitive situations. Yet again, contributing to the overall development of individuals involved.

Social Skills - Working with peers opens up gateways to communication, verbal and non verbal. Social skills come into play especially when individuals work as teams, which in turn contributes to receptive and expressive skills i.e. listening to and being listened to. Individuals begin to learn through imitation, trial and error, building on each others’ strengths, exchanging information verbally and/or non verbally through game-play, asking for help from peers or educators and focused attention.

Mental Stimulation/Mental Health - Staying involved with sports/physical fitness has a major role in helping maintain proper and healthy mental health. It keeps the brain stimulated when participating on a regular basis. Physical exercise in relation to mental health is also referred to as natural mood lifters releasing Endorphins in the body making the individual feel relaxed and optimistic.

Our sport for the day, Football!

A snapshot from a day at The Owl House. Forca Goa Foundation held a football session with us and integrated Football with Daily Living Skills.

From practicing kicking football to differentiating between color based teams. From being a team player to trusting your instincts. From learning football rules to making new friends.

From practicing kicking football to differentiating between color based teams. From being a team player to trusting your instincts. From learning football rules to making new friends.

Today’s takeaway

Tried and tested, proven multiple times via research and/or studies (link in references), all indicating sports/physical fitness has come a long way and has made us all aware of its benefits for mental, physical and intellectual health. It’s up to us to use this information to enhance the quality of life for ourselves and the individuals with disabilities we support.

Did you know?

Special Olympics, a global organization, has been running since 1968, with more than 30 Olympic styles of individual and team sports engaging people with special needs in various types of sports. It started in India in 1987 and has since been running successfully in integrating people with special needs in sports like swimming, tennis, track and field, volleyball and many more.*

Food for thought

How many sports have you tried for leisure/fun?

What sports do you and the person you support play?

How has it impacted your life overall?

Did you notice any physical/mental/intellectual benefits?

When was the last time you participated in a sport?

We would love to hear your thoughts on the idea of incorporating sports in your life as not merely a form of physical exercise.

Tell us how engaging in sports for fun/professionally worked for you and/or the person you support. Feel free to contact us if there is anything else you need to know.


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