Towards inclusive sports: everyone can participate
Young people with disabilities are less likely to engage in sports than their peers. Inholland is currently coordinating the European Sport Empowers Disabled Youth 2 (SEDY 2) project in an effort to address this issue. Researchers and specialists from the field are joining forces to make sports more inclusive and make sure everyone can participate.
Sports and exercise are good for us. They offer an opportunity to improve our health and participate, boosting our self-image and confidence. These things are particularly beneficial to young people with disabilities. All the same, relatively few of them play sports. During the SEDY 2 project researchers and experts from the Netherlands, Finland, Lithuania and Portugal assess the impact of inclusion in sports on this target group's lives and identify interventions in the respective countries to help promote participation in sports.
It's about having a choice, a sense of belonging and that everyone can participate.
The SEDY 1 project ran between 2015 and 2017. The follow-up project, SEDY 2, was launched in 2020. ‘We are conducting several sub-studies aimed at developing practical tools to promote inclusiveness in sports', explains Vera Dekkers, lecturer-researcher at the Power of Sports research group. 'That includes an inclusion handbook for sports clubs and the PAPAI programme, which helps children with disabilities to find a suitable hobby or sport.
During the project focus group sessions with disabled children, their parents and sports professionals were held. 'We conducted those sessions in every country', Vera explains. 'We wanted to find out what inclusion means for children with disabilities. The sessions identified a total of seven core themes. For example, it's about having a choice, a sense of belonging and that everyone can participate.' At the start of this year, young people with a disability and Sport Studies students came together to visualise the themes during a drawing session. After having been validated by the various project partners, the results were incorporated into an appealing illustrated statement on inclusion in sports:
Joey Faneyt, a second-year Sport Studies student at Inholland Haarlem, participated in the drawing sessions. He has a strong personal motivation to be focused on inclusiveness in sports. 'Out of his personal experience he knows that children with disabilities really enjoy sports, maybe even more than other kids. I want to give them all that opportunity. I also know what it's like to live with a disability. I have some issues myself because of a serious accident on the beach. I have difficulty concentrating and get tired easily. Luckily, I don't have that much difficulty moving. That's good, because I love sports.
Joey learned a lot from the drawing session. After all: talking with members of the target group tends to be more effective than talking about them. 'It's really valuable to hear what these young people need from their own perspective. In some cases, that can be a minor adjustment. A lot of sports trainers and coaches tend to overlook those things. I play basketball in Zandvoort and I only know one coach who could actually supervise children with a disability. I think more coaches should be trained as educators in order to make sports more inclusive. That's why I want to learn myself.'
I think more coaches should be trained as educators in order to make sports more inclusive. That's why I want to learn myself.
Sport Studies programme
SEDY 2 also offers Sport Studies students the opportunity to provide sports counselling to young people with a disability as part of the PAPAI programme. 'Sport Studies offers an Adaptive Sports specialisation to equip students with knowledge and skills on inclusiveness in sports', Vera explains. 'We're also developing online learning modules and organising multiplier events as part of the project so that sports professionals can put our theoretical knowledge into practice.'
As one of the SEDY partners, Gehandicaptensport Nederland was organising the Dutch multiplier event in Utrecht on 19 May in cooperation with Inholland University of Applied Sciences. 'A lot of sports associations have good intentions when it comes to inclusiveness', explains director Dos Engelaar. 'The problem is, they usually don't really understand what inclusion in sport means for youth with a disability and don't know where to begin. Training programmes for coaches should be focusing on that more. Sports clubs also need to address the issue of accessibility. They may have made the right physical adjustments, but what about the social side of things? Does everyone really feel that sense of belonging and can everyone participate? For example, could someone with a disability be or become a trainer at the club?
Inholland University of Applied Sciences has made inclusion in sports a key component of the Sport Studies curriculum, so that future sports scientists can apply that knowledge at sports clubs. That's incredibly important
Register now for the inaugural lecture.
On Thursday 23 June, Jasmijn Holla, lecturer Power of Sport, will deliver her inaugural lecture 'Everyone can participate'’. The title of her lecture refers to inclusive sports that are accessible to all groups: from young people with disabilities to those living in vulnerable socio-economic circumstances. If you would like to learn more about Jasmijn’s ideas, register now for her inaugural lecture (please note that the lecture is in Dutch).
The younger you learn, the better
'As a part of the multiplier event, we'd also present our statement on inclusion and handbook to help sports clubs to become more inclusive', Dos Engelaar continues. 'However, that's just one of the aspects we need to address. Inholland University of Applied Sciences has made inclusion in sports a key component of the Sport Studies curriculum, so that future sports scientists can apply that knowledge at sports clubs. That's incredibly important. After all, that's where you create real change. Kids' first experience at a club needs to be positive, because it's usually also their first step outside of the protective family environment and a chance to develop self-reliance and social skills. The younger you learn, the better; sports clubs can have a positive influence on children with disabilities.’