Supporting your child to participate in winter team sports
Team sports can be a fun and healthy way to encourage socialisation while promoting an active lifestyle. However, for many kids with disability, group activities can be confronting. The noises and people can be hard to process, understanding the rules of play can be tricky and, if your child has a physical disability, some games may need to be modified. Additionally, sadly some clubs or teams may be hesitant to include a child with disability because they aren’t confident in handling challenging situations or behaviours. But none of this should mean your child shouldn’t have the chance to participate. With some simple advice, children with disability can be included in a range of team sports.
Northcott’s inclusion guide, All In, provides information and resources to help everyone include children with disability in all activities, including individual and team sports, learning settings and out in the community.
For tips for your specific situation, visit and get a report with advice tailored to your needs. Below are some general tips to get you started with exploring team sports for your child.
For kids with autism and/or sensory needs, team sports can be particularly challenging – all the people and loud noises can be distracting. Before you choose a club or sport, check out the facility or venue to see how your child may react. If you are concerned about your child’s behaviour, you may want to find an existing sports program that is modified or simplified specifically for children with sensory or other needs. Alternatively, team sports such as cricket that follow a set structure may be a good option.
Before the first training session or game, try to visit the playing field and watch a game. Consider creating a social story about practice or attending the game. To help with understanding a game, create a visual timetable about what will happen before, during and after the game.
If your child has an intellectual disability or developmental delay, showing them books or videos of the sport, as well as explaining the game in simple language can help them understand what will happen.
During the game or training session
Before your child starts with a team, spend some time getting to know the coach and explain to them the best ways to interact positively with your child. The coach may have limited experience with children with disability so any advice you have will certainly be helpful.
For kids with autism, showing is always better than telling. Visuals, demonstrations, using simple language and showing them instructions individually are good techniques for coaches to use. Simple techniques like saying the child’s name, touching their hand or gently clapping your hands are good techniques for coaches to use to get the attention of children before explaining an activity.
It’s important to be patient with a child with disability. Processing instructions may take a little longer. Coaches should try to use a variety of demonstrations and visuals to help them understand the rules, and keep training activities short and dynamic.
If the child has a physical disability, the coach can modify the activity, equipment or rules of the game so everyone feels included. This could be as simple as allowing for more bounces in a game of basketball, or allowing more than the standard numbers of players on the court. However, always be aware of safety and make sure modifications don’t place anyone at risk.
If you’re on the sidelines watching, take some photos of your child participating in the game or activity so you can talk about what happened after the game is over. This can help your child to learn the rules and remember the game as a positive experience.
After the game or activity
Everyone likes to be praised for doing the right thing and children with disability or behavioural issues are no different. Make sure you praise good behaviour or when a child completes an activity. Coaches can encourage sportsmanship by bringing the team together to talk about the game and share something positive about each team member.
If the coach found your child’s behaviour challenging, talk to them about effective strategies and ideas that could be used in the future to calm or settle your child.
Do your part by talking with your child about the game, what they did and how the other children played. If you took photos, share them with your child so they can see themselves in action.
Remember, the most important thing you can do as a parent is to focus on encouraging fun and participation for your child.
Useful fact: All school enrolled children are eligible for the NSW Government Active Kids rebate – a $100 voucher which can be used for registration and participation costs for sport and fitness activities.
Northcott’s Primary School swimming carnival in March gives children with disability the chance to compete against other kids with disability in a range of modified pool races and activities. Check out the event details here.
Northcott also runs a similar swimming carnival for high school-aged children. This year’s high school carnival is on March 21 – see the details here.