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  • Louis Speight

Coaching Children with Complex Needs


Coaches are still making mistakes, when they are coaching children with complex needs.


Whether you're coaching a specific group of disabled children or integrating children into a mainstream group, there are some dos and don'ts.


1. Don't Try and Mix It Up


We see this all the time from other coaches and it drives us crazy.


We've seen a lot of coaches who change activities in really unproductive ways.


The classic line goes something like, "can you throw that with the other hand?'


Now while you can make the argument that this extends the activity or reignites interest, it can and often is unnecessarily challenging for the participant. A request like this can turn a positive experience for a child with complex needs into a negative one.


Besides which, is quite often unnecessary.


Any activity can be extended through competitive means and without changing the dynamics.


For example...


If you are having a javelin throwing contest, rather than asking participants to throw with their other hand, you could introduce targets for points or target zones. Splitting participants up into teams then allows you to extend the activity in the same way but without putting pressure on the child with complex needs.


It is often the case that the child with complex needs just wants to be included, so they will never tell you that they can't/don't want to do something.


2. Choose Your Words Carefully


When coaching children with complex needs, slips of the tongue happen all the time and no matter how hard you try, they always will!


That being said...


Thinking about your language is so, so important.


For example, we were at a schools event some ago, where everyone was involved in seated volleyball.


Now the majority of children there were able-bodied and only some had a disability. So, when the activity leader wanted to gauge how many people had achieved a milestone, she asked them to stand up!


Now through that one action, the activity leader excluded some of the group on what was supposed to be an inclusive activity.


When what she could have done was simply ask them to put their hand up. Communication is key. Coaches have to think about the words that they use.


3. Children With Complex Needs Are Often Like Butterflies


When coaching most groups of children, if you have children not taking part, then you probably need to change something.


However. if you're working with children with complex needs then this no longer applies.


It is quite natural (and correct) for children with complex needs to drift in and out of an activity. This can be for a number of reasons such as a child becoming over-stimulated or fatigued.


They are often like butterflies, drifting in and out of an ongoing activity.


4. Play Is Important


It can very difficult for even experienced coaches to gauge the respective abilities of a child with complex needs.


That is why it can be vital to give a piece of equipment to a participant and just see what he/she does with it.


This can help the coach understand:


- What the child can/can't do.


- What they like to do.


- What areas the coach should be working on.

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