Secondary Benefits of Adapted Sports and Recreation
By: Derrick Shoffner
Adapted sports and recreation are a great way for people with a disability to be physically active and improve fitness. Playing a game of sitting volleyball or wheelchair basketball can be a nice break from the monotony of solo workouts and create accountability to continue healthy habits. But improved cardiovascular health is not the only benefit of adapted sports participation. Power soccer is a good example of an adapted sport that will increase heart rate and provide many secondary benefits. Designed for people who use power wheelchairs, power soccer is played indoors on a hard-surface court. This four-on-four sport can be played recreationally or competitively under the United States Power Soccer Association. We have seen where most athletes will sustain a light-moderate intensity exercise while playing in a full length game (Barfield, 2016). To ensure your athletes reap all of the benefits of power soccer, or any sport, here are three important areas to consider implementing in your program:
- Ensure that the skill-challenge pendulum is balanced. In adapted sports, teams may be composed of players with a wide range of skill and experience. Meet players where they are from an instructional standpoint. Overwhelming new athletes with complex strategy may lead to a lack of confidence, but not challenging experienced players may lead to boredom. Find the happy medium that engages all athletes and encourages appropriate skill development.
- Provide opportunities for players to bond outside of practice. One of the greatest impacts adapted sports can have on a person with a disability is the formation of community and social networks. Teammates not only rely on each other on the court, but they are a great resource for each other off the court. Incorporate team-bonding activities outside of practice that create a free flowing and communication-inducing environment. If you are able to create a pathway for athletes to gain social capital, they will begin to feel connected to each other and to their community. Social capital promotes an enhanced feeling of empowerment which, in turn, leads to a higher level of independence. (Jeffres & Brown, 2017).
- Promote athlete identity. Another important secondary benefit of adapted sport is the cultivation of a positive identity, specifically disability identity. People with disabilities often experience societal barriers and negative stereotypes. It has been shown that identifying as an athlete who participates on a team can build confidence, promote self-advocacy, improve self-efficacy, enhance functional capacity and ability to complete activities of daily living (Barfield & Malone, 2013). Consider implementing a mentor program to help athletes grow in all areas of the sport; physical, mental, and affective/social. Being able to relate to an individual who has “been there, done that” can help foster positive athlete identity. Speaking about sport using person first language can spread awareness of ability within the community and provide a positive identification for the athlete.
In all sports and recreation programming, focus on improving the overall health and wellness of participants.