How we can support the FA to grow and evolve inclusive football
Posted on 19th March 2022 at 16:42
Extra-curricular activities are a huge part of children’s lives whilst growing up. When our children find a passion, we want them to spend as much time participating in it so they can grow and develop their skills.
When a child has special needs, how easy is to find and access extra-curricular activities? Not very easy in my opinion. I have found it extremely difficult to find things for my son George to participate in outside of school hours on a regular basis.
Football is the biggest sport in the country and it is absolutely amazing that the FA are growing opportunities for those with special needs and disabilities to play football. https://www.thefa.com/get-involved/player/disability/grassroots-disability-football As you can see from this link, there are a large amount of clubs getting involved and providing these sessions for children and young people. In my opinion, I think the FA have done a fantastic job of recognising the right areas of disabilities to work with to make this a success.
I'm proud to say that my football club, Welwyn Pegasus FC, have set up an inclusive football section specialising in autism friendly. Sessions run every Friday night at Monks Walk School, Welwyn Garden City, 6pm to 7pm. These are fun and friendly football sessions to give children and young people with autism, Asperger’s, ADHD or similar disorders on the spectrum the opportunity to give football a go and be involved with a sport with children and young people like themselves.
By having the whole 3g pitch allocated to these sessions it allows the children to explore football in a safe, fun and friendly environment.
It also means that those attending the sessions, can have space on the 3g to slowly build up to joining in the main session with other children. Some children have come along and have found it a little intimidating to jump right in a get involved. So they have been able to have a quiet area on the 3g, with a family member and ball to get used to the surroundings and environment. Slowly they are building up their confidence to join in. Even the smallest step towards joining in can be a massive success.
Siblings and friends have been very welcomed to join in the session to help their family member or friend gain the confidence to have fun with football whilst developing their skills.
Something that has worked really well in the sessions are our young volunteers who have come along to give their support to the coach team. These young Welwyn Pegasus volunteers have been a key part to the sessions and they are proving to be fantastic role models to those just starting off their footballing careers. I always admire young people when they are prepared to give up their own time for something so worthwhile. Their understanding and patience has impressed me and they have really helped the sessions flow.
Our sessions are quite small at the moment, however, I think that has worked well to give us coaches the time and attention that is needed to make these autism friendly sessions a massive success. Also, it has given the coaches time to build a relationship with these children and young people and build their footballing skills and knowledge.
In all honesty, I wasn’t quite sure what to quite expect from these sessions, whilst I have worked with autistic children and coached a football team for two seasons, I wasn’t quite sure how the two would work hand in hand. It just shows what an amazing thing football is.
The first session we had, we tried a match scenario and the players couldn’t seem to focus and get involved in a match scenario. Some children with autism really struggle with competition and losing. This is why inclusive sport sessions are important, as it helps them process and deal with it and they can learn to do it as part of a team. It is by all means not an overnight fix but over time they will learn and it will help them going forward in life.
At week four, we successfully had a match with six of the children for a fifteen minute period. During this time they had learnt so much and I was very impressed with the amount of knowledge and skills they had gained and obtained in such a short period of time.
The parents have provided us with some amazing feedback about the football. One of which being, this is the first activity that they have been able to take their child to and not chaperone them. I appreciate special needs is not familiar to all and therefore when a child with special needs is attending a normal (I don’t like the term normal, what is normal, but it is the best way to describe it) after school activity a child with special needs does need that extra attention and motivation. Therefore it may be necessary for the parent to attend with the child to help the session flow.
We expect this, at our sessions, and it is really important to get the right people to work with the kids to ensure we can get the best out of them and they are allowed to be themselves away from the their parents. They have the opportunity to express and be themselves.
Special needs parents always apologise for their kids, I do it all the time, we feel the need to justify why our child is behaving in such a way. Or we are so used to them being a disruption that we feel we have to step in and try and calm the situation down. However, all the parents have said it has been a refreshing change to have something about them.
One of the players attending, only leaves the house to come to football. What an amazing impact on a person and families life to have something available for them to access and be part of an accepting team. Friendships are blossoming too, which is wonderful to see grow. All because of football.
I am currently in touch with Herts Youth Inclusive Football, which is a fantastic hub of people working with all the local clubs in the Hertfordshire area to help support and promote inclusive football. They run tournaments and really help support one anothers teams and projects which is amazing. https://hertsyouthinclusivefootball.org/ After just setting up the level of support and advice I have been given is amazing and I am very grateful for all of their help and support to help build our inclusive football session. Hopefully in the not too distant future, I will be able to take our team to one of their tournaments, that is my ambition!
There is so much more to football then just kicking a ball. Since becoming part of a Grassroots team it is more than that. Yes of course aspirations to be a superstar football player is a dream but it is actually more humble than that. It is a community, support network and outlet. It is a family, one I am proud to be a part of.
Are you part of a football club, that could get involved and provide these sessions? Perhaps you have a disability yourself and want to start coaching those with a similar disability at a local club. Get involved and don’t delay, this is fast growing and it needs people to work with the FA to keep disability football going at Grassroot level. If you would like more information on the sessions held at Welwyn Pegasus FC, please get in touch.
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