Disability sport awareness workshop upskills TASS practitioners

SMILE Through Sport was founded by Stephen Miller MBE (Credit: Action Images/Jason Cairnduff Livepic)

TASS invited SMILE Through Sport’s managing director, Rachel Miller, to deliver the latest in a series of disability sport awareness workshops on Tyneside this month. We caught up with an individual committed to changing perceptions and building confidence.

TASS: Can you take us through a typical workshop and what it entails?

Rachel Miller: In this instance we delivered a disability sport and awareness session tailored to TASS – so the focus was on disability awareness, general sport awareness and how that relates to TASS and their practitioners. It’s a workshop that’s specific to talented athletes. We focus on terminology, ethics and inclusion, categories of disability, classification, strength and conditioning specific to disabled athletes and lifestyle awareness. It’s a six-hour workshop but there’s plenty of interaction and we introduce a mix of key learning outcomes and some fun games. One of the most popular activities is when we blindfold the practitioners to give them an idea of what it’s like to be a visually impaired athlete. It can be a long day so we’re always looking at ways to freshen things up!

TASS: Are those attending the workshop increasingly aware of the unique challenges facing disabled athletes and disability sport or is there still a knowledge gap which needs filling?

RM: It’s a bit of both. There are some people who only have a base knowledge of the areas which we cover but more and more people have a greater awareness of disability sport and the needs of athletes – they just lack the confidence to put what they know into practice. I think there’s still that underlying fear of insulting someone or saying the wrong thing and we’re here to point practitioners in the right direction and give them the self-confidence they need. I come across a lot of strength and conditioning coaches, in particular, who are afraid of injuring or hurting disability athletes. I try to reassure and encourage them where possible.

TASS: Have levels of awareness improved in the time you’ve been delivering your workshops?

RM: I think so. There’s definitely more awareness of disability sport across the board. Overall this was the fourth or fifth of these sessions that we’ve delivered – and the second for TASS – and in that time I’ve noticed practitioners have been more proactive. Often they’ll be working with a disabled athlete and be keen to build on what they already know. TASS, as a whole, is supporting more and more disabled people and helping them realise their sporting dreams. As a consequence, more practitioners require specialist knowledge.

SMILE Through Sport’s Stephen Miller (Credit: Handout)

TASS: Is there a desire to learn?

RM: Definitely. The people who attend our workshops are not there as part of some box ticking exercise. The latest session, in particular, was extremely positive. The people who attended were really engaged and that made my job a whole lot easier. Six hours is a long time to focus but they stuck with it and came away with plenty to think about.

TASS: How much do you enjoy delivering the workshops?

RM: I absolutely love it. The focus of the one-day course has changed so much since we started delivering it and it’s constantly evolving to better suit those attending. We’ve delivered it twice to TASS now and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. There’s a great deal of enthusiasm on both sides.

TASS: Nationally is disability sport awareness high on the agenda?

RM: It’s one of those areas that’s demanding greater attention. There are so many more disabled people in the performance sport system right now and they require specialist support from practitioners with different skillsets. There’s a big focus both regionally and nationally.

TASS: Why should practitioners look at attending a disability sport awareness course?

RM: It’s great for their confidence and for their understanding and ongoing development if they are going to be working with disabled athletes. Beyond sport it’s a useful life skill. The more people who are aware of the challenges facing disabled people the better. And we promote a very safe environment – people attending the course can ask what they want without fear of reproach for making what they may perceive to be a politically incorrect comment. They won’t be judged and we’re there to make them feel as comfortable as possible.

For more information on how SMILE Through Sport can help your organisation, please email info@smilethroughsport.com.