This episode of the Disability Sport Info show explores coaching in grassroots disability sport.
Keon Richardson explains what coaching is and how to provide the best coaching experience for disabled people. Challenges for coaches are considered along with potential recommendations for coaches.
Links to STEP model:
UK Coaching: https://www.ukcoaching.org/resources/topics/videos/subscription/the-step-model-explained
England Football Learning: https://learn.englandfootball.com/articles/resources/2022/make-coaching-personal-with-the-step-framework
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Speaker: CB: Dr Christopher Brown (Presenter – University of Hertfordshire, UK)
Speaker: KR: Keon Richardson (Participant – Blind futsal coach, UK)
Speaker: CB Time: 0:30
Welcome to the Disability Sport Info Show! Thank you for joining me for another episode. In this episode, we'll be exploring disability sports coaching at the grassroots level. To help me understand this area, I spoke to Keon Richardson.
So welcome, Keon, thank you for joining me today for our discussion about grassroots disability sport coaching. So I'm delighted to welcome you, Keon, to the show. So we've got Keon Richardson, he has great expertise about coaching blind football and kind of general coaching experience and education. And so for today's discussion, we're going to learn a little bit more about what disability sport coaching is.
So I think, Keon, just to kind of start our discussion, can you explain, what do we mean by disability sport coaching? And also, how does it differ from non-disabled sport coaching? So I wonder if you could kind of just start our conversations with answering those questions, please.
Speaker: KR Time: 1:25
Yeah, sure. So first of all, thank you for having me, very much appreciate it. Yeah, disability sport, in its entirety, refers to sport that's been modified from its original context, or has been designed specifically for people with disabilities. So a sport like boccia is designed for people with disabilities with physical disabilities, you’ve got goalball which is designed for people with visual impairments, and the term disability sport is used interchangeably with other terms like adaptive sport, Paralympic sport, Parasport. So disability sport coaching simply put is coaching children or young people, adults who have a disability. So it could be a pan-disability session where you have people with a range of disabilities and you’re perhaps coaching one sport. So, pan-disability football. As I mentioned, it could be goalball, a sport designed specifically for people with visual impairments or could be adapted sport, which is adapted from a mainstream sport, so like blind football, for example, which is adapted from futsal.
Speaker: CB Time: 2:29
Okay. So, from your experience what is kind of the most common approach to grassroots disability sport? Is it the pan-disability session where we have multiple impairment groups? Or is it more kind of specific to a particular impairment category or a particular sport? I mean, from your own experience, how have kind of mainstream organisations tried to approach disability sport?
Speaker: KR Time: 2:52
So it varies from different countries and different settings within that country. I think in England, for example, I think initially we went down the route of pan-disability, whereas I think because certain impairment groups want to play specific sports, I think it’s more geared towards impairment specific sports. So I think a lot of organisations are looking to introduce impairment specific sports as opposed to pan-disability. With pan-disability, you often see more for people who have learning disabilities, because there's not really much adaptations that are needed for people with learning disabilities. But if you're looking at impairment groups, like people with cerebral palsy or people who have visual impairments, they often looking to get into sports that have been adapted or modified specifically for their impairment.
Speaker: CB Time: 3:41
Okay. So from a mainstream perspective, I mean, to me, I mean, I'm not obviously a coach myself, but it seems like it’s probably easier to organise a pan-disability session. You know, you don't have to have specific equipment, specific coaching expertise to focus on a particular impairment group. So it would be fair to say, perhaps in the past, pan disability sessions had been focused on in the past because there isn't a huge amount of adaptations that were required. Is that a fair comment to make?
Speaker: KR Time: 4:11
Yeah, I definitely agree. And I think, again, the participants you often have at pan-disability sessions often don't have a range of needs in compared to let's say a group of people with visually impairments who need audible equipment. The communication is going to be a lot different; it’s going to be a lot of verbal cues than visual cues. So, yeah, I think again, there’s a lot less adaptations that are needed for pan-disability.
Speaker: CB Time: 4:43
Okay. And in terms of the specific impairment group kind of approach to coaching, that sounds quite tricky to try and organise and deliver because you've got to kind of cater to the specific needs, you've got to understand what is required to be effective coaches. So what is the best approach trying to do those sessions? You know, for coaches who are listening, how would they go about delivering specific sessions for a particular impairment group?
Speaker: KR Time: 5:13
I think it's understanding the group of individuals you have. I know that sounds cliche to say but I think when we're looking at specific impairment groups, what you’ll often have is a wide range of experience. One of the reasons why is because you often have players or participants who have acquired impairment, so they acquired their disability later on in life compared to someone who was born with their impairment. So, again, if we’re looking at someone who is visually impaired and born totally blind, their understanding of sport or a particular jargon that you use in sport could be completely different to someone who’s played football at a particular level and then eventually lost their sight, perhaps when they were 18.
So it's understanding how the communication will vary between the two individuals I just mentioned. And, again, understanding what their sporting needs are. So the person who is born blind, they may not have the same experiences as a person who's played football at a high level in terms of exposure to different physical movements. And their disposition towards sport. As I'm sure you're aware, a lot of people with disabilities are often discriminated from participating in sport where it's just been told that there's no opportunity for you or access to the appropriate equipment, or the distance from where they live to where the session is. So these factors will have an influence on their attitudes towards sport and their self-confidence.
So I think a lot of is understanding the person as an individual, their own experiences of sport, and understanding their own self-confidence. And what their sporting needs are in terms of what does one player does one player needs more peer relationships with other people who have a disability or don't have a disability, depending on what type of session it is. Or do they need to improve their mobility or physical literacy skills. And that comes through, again, just having talks with the player or participant, or, as well again, looking at observations as well. So observing during the coaching practice, seeing how they adjust to the type of space they’re playing in. And, yeah, their technical ability. It’s just making sure you're observing particular things.
Speaker: CB Time: 7:59
Okay. And in terms of how a coaching session is organised, or how it is designed and developed, to what extent do coaches, from your experience, consider the lived experience of disability for that particular individual? So, do coaches come into sessions for disabled people and think, ‘yeah, this is how I’m going to teach it and this is how they have to adapt to me’? Or is it more, ‘Okay, this is what I think should be going on for this particular session, and then they adapt to the participants themselves. I mean, from your experience, how does it usually work?
Speaker: KR Time: 8:34
Yeah, I think it's normally the latter. So I think, for me, a lot of coaches involved in disability sport, are often the polar opposites to grassroots sport. So typically in a mainstream sport, the coach is the boss. Whatever they say or do is the final word and you adjust to what they what they want or what they’re gonna do. Whereas, I think disability sport, again, because you kind of have an understanding of the background that people with disabilities are coming from, it might be their first time participating in sport. Their parents are bringing them to kind of have respite, or to get them to create new friends. So I think a lot of it adjusting around their needs and what their motivation for coming to your session is.
Speaker: CB Time: 9:24
In terms of the provision of coaching for disabled people, what's kind of the most popular or what’s the most common in terms of who it’s targeted at? Is it going to be for younger people, is it for adults, what about older adults? What kind of provision exists for those people from the different age ranges?
Speaker: KR Time: 9:46
Yes, I think there's a lot of provision for young people. There's a lot of different funding pots that allow organisations to apply for funding, be it your county football associations, or local charities or Sport England. Organisations are wanting to focus on developing school opportunities for people with disabilities. So there’s a lot of work that you can see that's been done in schools or community settings, and then I think a lot of charity, adult sessions or adult clubs if they want to if they want to go down the competitive route in terms of competing in leagues. So, yeah, I think for adults I don’t think there’s as much compared to the children, but there definitely is, I think a fair balance for children and adults.
Speaker: CB Time: 10:38
Okay, and in terms of for a non-disabled coach, what's the education like for coaches when they are developing their craft and developing their experience and skills? When you were becoming, you know, a higher ranked coach or getting more experience, how did you find the education for including people from kind of different backgrounds such as disability?
Speaker: KR Time: 11:03
I think a lot of it is experiential learning, so learning through experience. When I think about, I mean, I'm 27 and I started my coaching journey around 14/15. And when I think about the different coach education courses I've done, my background is mainly in football and futsal, but I don't really think there has been, I mean, the FA used to have a coaching course for coaching disabled footballers, coaching blind footballers, coaching Deaf footballers. But it was only a course for a day and there's only so much you can get out of a day’s coaching course. So, essentially, it was learning from, and I've been to different coaching settings. So I’ve coached at a partially sighted and Deaf futsal, a regional talent centre. I've done learning disability football sessions, I’ve done pan-disability football sessions, I’ve done mental health sessions. A lot of it you learn through experience, as I said. So you learn through other coaches that are perhaps leading the session. You learn from the different participants you have in front of you and how you adapt according to their needs. Be it their impairment or motivational needs to participate in a session. So yeah.
I think the academic side’s helped a lot in terms of understanding theoretical approaches and pedagogical approaches to coaching. So one of the very useful theories that I've come across is the STEP model by Black and Stevenson. STEP is basically an activity framework based on the inclusion spectrum framework model. It’s looking at maximising participation for people of all abilities, ages, and different genders. So STEP is acronym. The S stands for space, so is increasing or decreasing the space according to the mobility of your participants. So look at the interaction and movement within that area. And then you can have things like a safe zone or an ability safe zone. So, if you’re doing a tag game, for example, if you know you have someone who has cerebral palsy, so they may have limited movement, you may create a safe zone within that box, and say, ‘right, if you need a breather or a timeout, you're finding it difficult, you can stay in that safe zone for five seconds, three seconds. So it's sort of modifying the space according to player’s needs and what type of interaction you want to have.
And then the task is obviously looking at what objective you're trying to achieve from the session and how you adjust the task to fit with your objectives. So if I'm looking at shooting with both feet, I may say the task is if you’re right footed and you score with your left foot, the goal’s worth 3 points.
And then, if you’re looking at equipment. So the ‘E’ in STEP stands for equipment. So looking at adjusting the equipment to bring about different returns. So if we're looking at dribbling, for example, and having close control, you may want to use smaller balls. Or again if you have someone who has a visual impairment and struggles to see the ball, you can use an audible ball or a brighter coloured ball. And again, thinking about equipment, looking at cones as well. So in previous sessions when I’d done pan-disability sessions, I remember I had a session where I predominately had adults who had learning disabilities. So I'd normally use like saucer cones. I literally remember, he doesn’t often come to this session, but there was a participant there who had a wheelchair and was a wheelchair-user, and literally would crush all the saucer cones. So if I'm, if I'm just thinking, again, if I'm if I'm just thinking from this is this is my session. I can just say you're the issue because your wheelchair is crushing my cones but, actually, if you use flat markers, and I like to use flat markers because, again, you don’t have the issue of people crossing over them or people that have sensory needs or limited spatial awareness, instead of stepping on your cones, you can use a flat marker, so it prevents that issue from happening.
The ‘P’ is for people, so looking at how people interact during that session. So looking at small-sided games, so if I've got a group of people who have cerebral palsy, instead of the game being eleven-a-side, so having 22 people on the field, I may do. The game for cerebral palsy is actually 7-a-side, but I can actually say, ‘you know, I can make it three against three’, so there’s more movement. There's not many affordances for the people with cerebral palsy to make so many complex decisions. You break it down to three v. three to focus on a particular task, so it could be shooting, it could be defending.
I added another letter, so I call it STEPS rather than STEP. The last one is that score that I mentioned. So manipulating the score. So, in football, you score if you shoot the ball in the net. So again, looking at the score, depending on what my task or my objective for the session, how can I adjust the score to motivate the participants? Like I mentioned as an example, if I’m looking at shooting with both feet, I could say, ‘if you shoot with your less preferred foot, it could be three points’. Or, if I’m looking at counterattacking, I could say, ‘if you tackle the ball from the opponent and score within ten seconds, the goal’s worth five points. Again, it’s manipulating the score in alignment with what the objectives of my sessions.
Speaker: CB Time: 17:06
Interesting, thank you for that. So that’s the STEP model. Or for you, Keon, the adapted version is STEPS. I’m not sure if that’s a trademark or copyright, but that’s what Keon uses, STEPS model. Really interesting, thank you for that. On the description for the podcast episode I'll include a link to the STEP model so that people can have a look at it if they are interested.
You obviously have a passion and interest in disability sport, clearly, based on your experience and your background, but those coaches who maybe don't have any involvement or any particular interest in disability sport, what should they do or what should they consider if for their mainstream session, there is an individual with an impairment who wants to participate, how would that coach go about adapting? Or what should they be aware of, when delivering the session for people with impairments who are also wanting to participate in their coaching session? What should a non-disabled coach who hasn't particularly had much involvement or experience in disability, go about delivering that session?
Speaker: KR Time: 18:13
I think with disability it's probably been a taboo thing. Or maybe within the realms of coaching for people who don't have experience coaching disability sport or people with a disability, they’re often scared to touch around the subject. It’s just having a conversation with their parent or the player about, ‘okay, first of all, do you have any medical needs I need to be aware about in relation to your disability or impairment? What are you comfortable doing? What aren’t you comfortable doing? And what is the best way to effectively communicate with you?
So, when I was working at a futsal sighted and Deaf talent centre, I helped a few the players after their post-exit from the programme get into mainstream futsal clubs. Again, a lot of the coaches didn’t have experience of communicating with a player who has a hearing impairment, but I think it’s just understanding like, how some of the verbal cues, even understanding bits of sign language from themselves. So again, a person who has a hearing impairment, you know, if you're going to communicate don’t put your hand over your mouth, or don’t have your back turned towards them when you're communicating. One, it comes from experience but, two, more importantly, it comes from having communication with that person. Some people use a hearing aid so they can pick up on something, even if your back is turned, you are saying, whereas some people don’t or would rather lipread. So again, it's understanding the individual. That will help inform your practice because you can’t just assume this person is Deaf or has cerebral palsy therefore, they can’t do this or they can’t do that. But it’s like I said, all these factors, which are beneath the surface, about if they were born with their impairment or if they acquired it later on in life is going to affect their sporting needs and their understanding of sport and how they communicate and how they lift the spirits.
So I think, as you asked at the start, it’s understanding their lived experiences and then we can set up. I can’t give you prescription of what you should do because it’s understanding the person first. So, again, you may have a person who’s got a visual impairment, they may be partially sighted so they may have tunnel vision. So again, think about how you set up your practice, do you use pitch markings? If it's a session where you have everyone who is sighted, you may be able to get away with not using cones because you may say, ‘well, we’re playing up to the white lines. Some people may have colour blindness or a visual impairment that makes it difficult for them to see certain colours or certain pitch markings. So, again, it's understanding the individual as well.
Speaker: CB Time: 21:31
Really interesting. I mean, it sounds like to me, as a non-expert - you are the expert in terms of coaching, that you just adjust it around your participants like you would in any other situation. Yeah. So excellent coaching should be what's your participants like, what do they need? You know, how should you structure it based on their requirements, etc? Rather than having that predefined idea of what exactly you're going to deliver. It's about being flexible, adaptable, etc.
I think also what you said about some people kind of skirting around the issue of disability because maybe they don't want to offend someone or they're not sure about what they're allowed to say, etc. Kind of taps into, there was a campaign by Scope, the charity, a few years ago called, ‘End the Awkward’. Don’t know if you saw it? It had Warwick Davis in it, for example, where some people don't engage with disability because they’re worried about offending when actually we’ve just got to treat them like individuals because they are just people at the end of the day. So how do people get over that if they are just afraid, they might offend someone or they might not do it right? As you say, most of what your experience or your ability as a coach is based on your experiences, but how do people actually have confidence enough to be able to engage and learn that experience in the first place? What would your key recommendation be for coaches who are maybe a little bit afraid about getting involved in this space?
Speaker: KR Time: 22:57
Yeah, I think what's important is to try and find a mutual ground. I’ve worked in disability sport in different contexts and in different countries. Since 2018, I've been working on introducing blind football in Zimbabwe. And what I found was that many people were quite like, although they wanted to participate in football, they were told for a large part of their life that they can’t because they’re blind or visually impaired. So, although they’re interested in sport, it’s not something you can form a relationship on as the first point. But it’s kind of finding a mutual ground in something. So, for me, I was always interested in the Shona language, which is one of the native languages in Zimbabwe. I think what we have to realise as able-bodied coaches is that there is a power dynamic between, again you see it in the coach-athlete relationship but being a non-disabled coach with a disabled athlete, there is a power dynamic that exists. So it’s kind of just breaking that. And, for me, my personal principles are, although we do have hierarchy and we do need to have respect, it is a collaboration: coaching is worthless if you don't have any players. And, you know, players need coaches to be able to improve and enhance their performance. So it's understanding there's a mutual relationship. And, you know, it doesn't always have to be a relationship solely based on football. It could be you’re interested in a certain genre of music, or you could be interested in art. Again, that just comes from just having a conversation with that person and just not being afraid. Because, like I said, it's understanding the individual because some people with disabilities are happy, you know, like we have jargon. If I’m working with a blind person, for example, and I say, ‘do you see what I mean?’ Or ‘did you see that?’. ‘Of course I didn’t see it’. For some people, they may genuinely take offence to it but, again, some people may be born without being blind, so they understand that jargon.
When you're around people with disabilities more often, you just become more comfortable about not being offensive because you understand the person first, you understand their personality. You understand, like, how far you can go with certain jokes and stuff like that. So I think it's again, it's just immersing yourself within settings with people with disabilities and it becomes less about offending and more about developing a personal relationship.
I think the challenge with disability sport coaching is that, in comparison to grassroots sport, the number of people with a disability who participate in a sport compared to people without a disability, it’s quite sporadic. It's a lot lower for people with disabilities. Although the demand is there, it’s not as significant at grassroots sport.
If I look at my FA Level 1, for example, in coaching football. If I’m not mistaken it was over 10 days whereas a lot of disability sport coaching courses are introductory courses, it’s a day-long workshop. I know goalball have an introductory goalball coaching course, which is for one day. And, again, although it was for one day, it was quite impactful. But I think it will be more helpful if there was a longer course and it was more similar to what the FA do where you have in-situ visits where tutors come out and see you in practice and give you advice and recommendations. I think that's kind of happening in different sports. I know with the Football Association, they have coach mentors for disability football, which is something that I felt was quite important, but it would be nice to see that across a range of different sports as well.
Speaker: CB Time: 27:27
What are the main challenges, then, facing coaches in disability sport? I mean, you’ve probably mentioned quite a few already, but are there any additional challenges or real kind of prominent challenge that you want to highlight that coaches might face when they are trying to people from a wide background, such as disability?
Speaker: KR Time: 27:42
Yeah. So I think a few of the challenges are mainly around locality. In terms of where your session is in relation to where people with disabilities live. And, again, transportation might be an issue if they have a mobility or physical impairment. You know, it may be a cost for parents to send them to your session, so they may not attend as regularly. And again, looking at the cost of venue hire in relation and in correlation with access to funding. Sometimes it might not be possible to have a regular weekly session, it might be a session that runs for two months or once a month. But, again, sometimes it's hard to see, although you're having an impact, you'll see a lot more fluctuation in development because again, if you’re only doing a session once a month, you might see them improve quite a lot, whereas the next session you might see a bit of regression because it's been so long since the last they last participated in your formal session.
To counteract that, for me, it comes back to your practice design. So for me I always like to deliver activities and games that if they have the right equipment, they can do that by themselves or with their friends or their parents or family members away from the session.
I think another issue is around equipment. So again, if you're looking at specific impairment groups, especially visual impairment, you’re gonna needed adapted equipment. Also even for people who are wheelchair users, looking at powerchair football, you obviously need a specific type of chair to play the sport, and you also need, the ball’s a lot bigger compared to a regular eleven-a-side football. Again, it's not cheap. So a lot of adapted equipment is quite expensive. So even for blind football, for example, the average ball costs around £30 cost. If you’ve got a session with 10 kids and you want to by ten balls, five balls, what’s that, £150. It can be quite expensive to get access to adapted equipment, especially if you haven't got funding to do so.
And I think another challenge is, if you’re one of the coaches that prescription coaching, it’s kind of difficult to get that engagement because, again, you don't really have a real understanding of what your participant will want from the session, what experiences they have and what their needs are. So you may not get that active engagement you’d like to see.
Speaker: CB Time: 30:42
Okay. Some really interesting challenges that you’ve highlighted there.
Final question, I think, Let’s end on a positive. What does excellent coaching look like for disability sport, in your opinion?
Speaker: KR Time: 30:56
For me, excellent grassroots coaching in disability sport looks like participants who are fully engaged. They’re getting a large number of benefits from the session. You can look at the technical aspects and physical aspects, but also the psychological aspect and social aspect, for me, is quite important. So they’re developing almost a family like network with the participants. They’re not only friends but lifelong friendships that they’ve developed. And for the psychological aspect their self-esteem is improving, their confidence and their desire to participate in sport. I think that’s one of the key things I think looks like excellent coaching. So seeing someone who may not like sport or has big hesitations about participating in sport, saying to their mum they can’t wait for the next session, or they’re frustrated they turned up five minutes late, that’s what excellent grassroots coaching looks like to me, that you’re delivering a high-quality experience that they want to be part of and don’t want to miss out on.
Speaker: CB Time: 32:12
Thank you ever so much, Keon. It’s been great chatting to you and I look forward to catching up with you soon.
Speaker: KR Time: 32:17
Yeah. Thank you very much. Chris. Really enjoyed doing it. Thank you for having me.
Speaker: CB Time: 32:21
No worries. Thank you!
*** Discussion ends ***
Speaker: CB Time: 32:23
That’s it. That’s all we have time for. Thanks for listening to another episode of the Disability Sport Info show. Stay tuned for another episode. Until then. Goodbye.
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