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Inclusion in Athletics: Event Focus – Little Athletics Programme – IWA Sport

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In 2023, Irish Wheelchair Association-Sport (IWA-Sport) approached Colette Quinn, Regional Development Officer for Athletics Ireland, and Dublin City Council Region about a possible collaboration to deliver an athletics programme for young people with a physical disability. Having been involved in athletics since the early 90’s and spent many years as a coach within her own club, Colette has seen firsthand the benefits to all involved by opening doors and creating opportunities for children with disabilities within athletics.

The programme commenced in August 2023 in St. Anne’s Park, Raheny under the guidance of Shane Brady AAI Coach and assisted by Leah McCabe and Joanne Wall from IWA-Sport. Starting with small numbers last summer, the programme has increased in size holding in the mid-teens at the moment. The sessions moved indoors to the IWA Sports Hall in Clontarf for the winter months. All those involved in the programme agree, success cannot and should not be measured on the number of participants but on those participating enjoying themselves, feeling welcome and comfortable in an inclusive environment where they are able to participate and express themselves. A session where small victories and progress are celebrated, no matter how minor they may seem, every achievement is worth recognising. Taking all these things into account the organisers believe the programme has been a success to date.

A typical coaching session includes a variety of activities tailored to abilities and interests. A session starts with a warm-up to prepare the participants physically and mentally for the activities ahead. This is followed by activities such as sprints, throws, and other skill-building exercises. It is important to adapt the activities to accommodate different abilities and provide a supportive environment for all participants. Ending the session with fun games can help reinforce skills learned and create a positive and enjoyable experience for the children.

Little Athletics programme a great success

Shane’s advice to other coaches is to communicate clearly and effectively with both the children and their parents or caregivers to understand their needs and preferences. Be patient, flexible, and adaptable in your coaching approach to accommodate the diverse needs of children with disabilities. Focus on each child’s strengths and abilities and provide positive reinforcement to build their confidence and self-esteem. Every child is unique, so take the time to get to know each participant individually and tailor your coaching approach to meet their specific needs. Emphasise the importance of teamwork, sportsmanship, and inclusivity in your coaching philosophy to foster a supportive and encouraging environment for all participants.

Colette is delighted to see the programme has opened its doors to young people with a Vision Impairment also. She believes the long-term goal of the programme is to integrate athletes into their local athletics club. There is still some fear and lack of knowledge amongst club coaches in this area, so she has been working with IWA-Sport and Vision Sports Ireland to hold a Junior Para Athletics Development Day on Saturday 13th April in SETU, Carlow. Athletics Ireland coaches will lead event specific sessions for athletes between 8-18 years with a physical disability or vision impairment. Club coaches are welcome to attend the session and learn more about para athletics. See registration details below.

Joanne Wall, Sports Development Officer with IWA-Sport believes collaboration and the sharing of expertise is vital to develop the sport and create more opportunities and events for everyone to take part in. She is currently working behind the scenes on the Grand Prix programme which take place over the summer athletics season with the first games generally taking place in April and the final games in September.

The Grand Prix comprises of six different dates and locations around the country and is open to para-athletes aged from 5 years +. Athletes compete within their own classification while younger athletes compete in the parallel games. The parallel games focus on athletes who take part in the Little Athletics programme. Parallel athletes are grouped according to ability and use some adapted equipment.

About IWA-Sport

IWA Sport has been in existence since 1960, their mission is to develop and promote sport, physical and recreational opportunities for people with a physical disability to reach their full potential.  The vision is for everyone with a physical disability to enjoy sport, physical and recreational activities on a fully inclusive basis in any environment.

Most people will find a club that suits them when entering the world of sport. For those in a wheelchair or living with a disability however they might think that they can’t experience the same privilege.

IWA-Sport welcomes people of all sporting levels and abilities to join their clubs, gym, and programme of events. There are clubs for people of all ages across the country including wheelchair basketball, rugby, and athletics. Joining IWA-Sport enables you to take part in their annual sporting events and, what’s most important, to socialise and keep active. Membership is open to anyone with a physical disability – you do not need to be a wheelchair user.

Multi-Sport Clubs provide an outlet for children with physical disabilities, helping them develop their social skills, improve their physical capabilities while also competing at their level and having fun making memories for life. Some of these clubs accept children from ages 5+, with a pathway into senior level sports and a chance to even represent Ireland in international competitions.

IWA-Sport has benefited enormously from the support of volunteers. The vast range of programmes could not be delivered without the support of volunteers. The role of IWA-Sport volunteers varies and includes sports section coordinators, sport specific officials and coaches, tutors, administrators, and bus drivers. If you are interested in getting involved and volunteering at IWA-Sport athletic events, please contact: joanne.wall@iwa.ie

Upcoming Para Athletics Events

  • Little Athletics – Sunday March 3rd, 24th & April 7th from 10am – 11am = Irish Wheelchair Association, Sports Hall, Blackheath, Clontarf. Registration is essential. Contact: Joanne.wall@iwa.ie
  • Junior Para Athletics Development Day – SETU, Carlow on April 13th from 11am -2pm for children aged 8- 18years. Athletics Ireland coaches will lead event specific sessions. Club coaches welcome to attend. Registration is essential. Contact: trionashalloe@athleticsireland.ie
  • Para Athletics Portlaoise
    The programme is open to all age groups, Junior 5-17 years and Adult 18+ years. It will take place between 11:30am – 12:30pm. This 5-month programme kicks off April 20th. Contact: Sean.moyles@visionsports.ie

  • MayFest 25-26th May
    Vision Sports Ireland’s MayFest event is a multi-sport extravaganza weekend designed for people who are blind and vision impaired, as well as their family and friends. It offers “come-and-try” opportunities, competitions, and demo sport events to encourage and facilitate sports participation among the vision impaired community. MayFest is an annual event, celebrated with the support of various sponsors, National Governing Bodies and Volunteers, highlighting Vision Sports Ireland’s commitment to promoting inclusive sports and recreational activities. The Athletics “come-and-try” event will be held on Saturday the 25th at UCD. Contact: sean.moyles@visionsports.ie
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