Our Special Olympics GB athletes’ achievements on the field of play have always been, and always will be, amazing. But what of their coaching achievements? Are they provided with opportunities to coach? Are sport NGB courses accessible? Do they have a role model who they can relate to in the coaching world? If we are to inspire the next generation of Special Olympics GB athletes, we need more coaches they can relate to, and exploring the answers to these questions is a great start.   

On Saturday 26th February , Special Olympics GB were given the privilege to collaborate with Jacob Meaton, our regional contact for East Midlands & Greater Manchester and founder of DOSportUK and Jon Stonebridge from Mencap, to explore some of these questions through delivery of a pilot course ‘Introduction to Coaching Basketball’ in further partnership with Basketball England and Sport Structures. 

The aim of the course was to support athletes with an intellectual disability onto the coaching pathway and to gather learning on how to replicate the course across other Special Olympics GB sports. In total, there were 12 in attendance, 9 athletes alongside 3 of their existing volunteer coaches, ensuring a unified and supported learning environment for delivery. 

Commenting on the overall experience of delivering the pilot course, Jon from Sport Mencap said:

“It was great to see so many people with an intellectual disability wanting to take their first step onto the basketball coaching pathway. The development of the workshop with Special Olympics GB, Sports Structures, Mencap and Basketball England not only allowed the group that took part to achieve a coaching award but in the future it will enable more people to follow in their footsteps”

One of the athletes on the course, Alan Collins (pictured right giving coaching instructions) from Special Olympics Derbyshire was asked why he wanted to get involved in coaching, to which he replied:

“I was asked and I thought why not, I know how to play the game and I can help give back”  

Another athlete in attendance, James Wyatt, also from Special Olympics Derbyshire, is already a Level 2 Coach in Badminton but has recently been enjoying playing the sport of basketball. James was asked what are your aspirations as a coach, and replied: 

“One day I would like to coach at a World Games, whether it is basketball or badminton I don’t mind, as long as I have opportunities like this to get on the pathway I can get there!”

Following the practical delivery of the course, athletes were required to complete e-learning modules from home. This was done through Sports Structures, who are the delivery arm for Basketball England’s courses, and were keen to learn from this course to improve access to those with intellectual disabilities wishing to get on the coaching pathway in the future.

What key lessons were learned?

Practical element – Overall, the flow of the practical course was well structured with engaging games, participants loved it. However, one or two games were too complex for some participants, therefore it is recommended when participants are split into groups to have a person without an intellectual disability in each group to provide support and guidance where needed. This was exactly the course of action taken by the course tutor and it worked very well. 

Classroom element – The online modules delivered in person were well received and delivered with full engagement of all participants. This really enabled participants to feel included, confident and to demonstrate their knowledge of the game.  

It is recommended, as evidenced during this course, that the fundamental skills within a classroom are re-emphasised by a tutor during a practical in-game play and also as a separate activity (as seen in image above). It was felt this was important for those with an intellectual disability to be able to better understand the skill elements of the game and put it into practice. A tutor may need to consider this just to make sure the basic skills are understood.

Online element - It was certainly felt that it was better delivering the online modules face to face in a classroom setting than online. For future delivery, it is highly recommended that as much of a coaching course qualification for people with an intellectual disability are delivered face to face (unless the tutor knows their specific group and that they would be able to cope with online activities).

“Online remains a barrier. If there was a way we could get more of the content delivered  in person this would be more beneficial for people with an intellectual disability. If it needs to stay online, some participants will need support, and if that support is not available, they could be left behind and unable to complete full courses independently. We hope to see a more accessible format in the future if Sport Structures/Basketball England take the feedback on board.”
By Jacob from DOSportUK reflects:

Echoing those comments and further reflecting, Darren Wyn Jones from Special Olympics GB commented:

“A lot of NGB’s over the past two years have had to reposition themselves with online delivery, bringing benefits of reduced costs, time and convenience, yet accessibility remains a challenge. We would encourage NGB’s to revisit their online modules and consider accessibility options they could add to their courses e.g. audio options, larger fonts, simplify the language, highlight key words and use symbols or images etc.”  

What Next?

“I think for me it is all about giving athletes the confidence and knowledge to be able to coach and assist a session. It will be interesting to see if any can go on to develop further and maybe lead session and become head coaches.” Jacob

Special Olympics GB are conducting a consultation throughout March and April to further explore the barriers faced by our athletes who wish to become coaches. Watch this space as we share our findings with the wider sport sector in May to influence change and get more people with an intellectual disability onto the coaching pathway.