Young Athletes with Disabilities Grow Into Healthy Adults
|James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., Director|
Researchers have not yet examined in great depth how the brain functions during sports competition. It would seem reasonable that there are major neurological reactions that are transmitted in nanoseconds -- neurons connecting with other neurons to create new links within the highest level of brain matter. It's one thing to be able to sit at a desk and check off the right answer in a controlled environment; it's another to be racing around a track trying to process information while battling extreme oxygen debt and hoping to reach the finish line before you run out of gas. This is what sports is all about - learning to deal with the pressure of competition, and likely using brain functions that never get used in a classroom or in front of a computer. Strategies to overcome momentary, uncontrollable circumstances such as the change of a ball's trajectory in mid-flight, reacting to a wheelchair racer making a move on the final turn, or altering the forces displaced to a boccia ball to overcome an outstanding roll by your opponent, require motor skill, determination, and brain power. Engaging the mind and body in synchrony facilitates optimal growth and development and provides a sense of excitement and accomplishment that many athletes claim is unmatched by almost any other human activity.
For children with disabilities, sports can be the difference between an active, vibrant youngster who learns the value of hard work in achieving important milestones, and one who is disengaged from a very important part of childhood. Competition is an inherent part of life. Whether in the classroom, on the playground, or in the work environment, competition is part of what drives us to do better. Through sports, children learn to compete fairly and gain knowledge on how to adapt to their specific event. Win or lose, a child can feel proud of small gains in performance - a few extra touches of the soccer ball, a good pass, a second or two off their time, or a more accurate roll in boccia or bowling. There is something for everyone.
Providing children with disabilities with enriching sporting experiences must become a goal of every community in America. This should be no less important than providing them with access to books and computers. Sports is the one time in a child's life when there is no planned sequence, no organized assignments, no structured lesson plans, only spontaneous, enjoyable, interactive play, something that many children with disabilities are deprived of during their brief childhood. Thanks to organizations such as BlazeSports and the International Special Olympics, sports for youth with disabilities will continue to grow, and with new and emerging technologies, will give all children with disabilities the opportunity to compete at their highest performance level in whatever sporting event they choose.