New European programme launched
How do you get young people with disabilities to play sport?
Young people with disabilities tend to exercise less than their peers. To remedy this situation, a three-year European research programme was launched on the 15th of January. Researchers and students from Inholland University of Applied Sciences are collaborating with project partners on methods that will literally get children, parents, municipalities and other stakeholders active.
Sport has health and social benefits. When people are participating, they feel better, which in turn is good for their self-image and self-confidence. These aspects are particularly beneficial for young people with disabilities. All the same, relatively few of them play sports, not just in the Netherlands, but also in the rest of Europe. Inholland has therefore set up the Sport Empowers Disabled Youth (SEDY) project with a grant from the Erasmus+ Sport programme.
Inholland as overall coordinator
'This programme has already run from 2015 to 2017', says project leader Afke Kerkstra, a researcher in Inholland's Power of Sport research area. 'Afterwards, we discovered that more was needed to ensure inclusion in sport. For this reason, we re-enrolled together with universities of applied sciences and sports organisations from Finland, Lithuania and Portugal. Three years later, we are picking up where we left off. Inholland is the overall coordinator of this SEDY 2 project.'
Students as personal coaches
The previous project led to two major interventions. 'Through the Focus on Me method, we made young people's voices heard', says Kerkstra. 'What do they need and how can sports opportunities be tailored accordingly? In addition, we worked with Sport Studies students as personal coaches to actually get the children to play sports. Both the children and their parents experience barriers to taking that step. With their enthusiasm, students can break through those barriers and look for suitable opportunities.' In the SEDY 2 project, the researchers focus on exactly what inclusion in sport means. They are developing, testing and sharing new methods and measuring their impact.
We worked with Sport Studies students as personal coaches to actually get the children to play sports. Both the children and their parents experience barriers to taking that step. With their enthusiasm, students can break through those barriers and look for suitable opportunities.
Combining research and education
Kerkstra focuses on the interaction between research and education. 'SEDY offers fourth-year students a great project for their graduation profile. Second-year students can also join us for a short work placement. At the same time, we can make good use of their reports for our research objectives to improve the interventions still further.'
'Trained to lead discussions'
One of the participating students is Geert-Jan Borst, a fourth-year Sport Studies student at Inholland Haarlem. 'In the SEDY project, I supervised a 15-year-old boy with a language development disorder. Together, we considered what sports could do for him and searched for opportunities. For SEDY 2, I trained as a discussion leader for focus groups. These bring together young people, parents and other stakeholders to discuss various issues relating to sport and children with disabilities.' Geert-Jan does not yet know whether he will continue down this path after graduation. 'I would actually like to work in rehabilitation. But what I am learning about mentoring young people and as a discussion leader will certainly come in useful in my later career.'
I would actually like to work in rehabilitation. But what I am learning about mentoring young people and as a discussion leader will certainly come in useful in my later career.
'In Portugal, we are working to raise awareness'
Project partners in other countries express the same enthusiasm, such as researcher Nuno Pimenta from Sport science school in Rio Maior, Portugal. 'SEDY 2 is intended to focus more on what each country needs most. In Portugal, we will mainly focus on raising awareness: not enough people currently recognise the importance of inclusion in sports.'
'Different countries supporting each other'
'In Finland, the situation is similar to that of the Netherlands', says Aija Saari, a researcher at the Finnish Paralympic Committee. 'For example, we also worked with personal coaches. To our surprise, we were able to reach over 400 children in this way – much more than we had thought. Our colleagues in the Netherlands encouraged us to go for it anyway. That's one of the great things about this project: you can support each other from different countries, and we can pass on the results we gain in practice to other countries and vice versa.'