Sports Adapted to Your Child’s Abilities
Did you know that there are over 8,000 different sports in this world? Yes, 8,000! There are physical sports, mind sports, board sports, equestrian sports, the list goes on. There is even a sport called “Wifecarrying” if you can believe that. There is literally a sport out there for everyone. So if you love mowing the lawn, why not become a lawn mowing racer. If you love air guitar, you can enter contests world wide.
It’s clear to see that we humans LOVE sports so it’s probably not a surprise to hear that in America, three out of every four families have children involved in at least one sport. Growing up my younger brother was in everything; soccer, football, baseball and lacrosse. I was most likely to enter a poetry contest. Yes, I was one of those that refused to dress out for P.E. and I really never understood why the class was required but I’m sure there was a perfectly justified reason to make us run laps and do sit ups or play dodgeball and flag football, right?
Turns out sports are incredibly important. Sports aren’t just a way of having fun, it has many physical, developmental, psychological and social benefits.
Just to name a few, sports help children learn:
- How to control their emotions and channel negative feelings in a positive way
- What teamwork is, how to play fair and accept discipline
- Ways to cope with the highs and lows of life
- How to build resilience and confidence in themselves
Adaptive Sports Programs
When I say there is a sport out there for everyone, I don’t just mean “able-bodied individuals”. There are a number of programs that are able to modify activities to fit with someone’s capabilities. These adaptive sports allow individuals with a disability to be able to participate and overcome physical and cognitive challenges in a supportive environment.
Here are some of the immeasurable benefits sports can provide your child:
- Improved levels of functioning in activities and daily living
- Greater emotional well-being, physical capability, and physiological capacity
- Independence, confidence, and sense of belonging
- Socialization, meaningful friendships, and preparation for adult life in an inclusive society
- Greater respect, appreciation for and acceptance of individual differences
- Reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Building decision-making and strategic thinking
- Learning math skills and building short-term memory through scorekeeping
- Increased muscle strength and stamina
- Improving connections between the brain and body
Sports can enrich and transform lives and adapting the sports arena to the needs of the disabled involves the use of community resources and programs to help make the adaptation possible. These programs provide specialized equipment and can modify activities to allow for inclusion of those with any level of disability. Almost any sport can be modified.
Here are a few examples of how some sports have been adapted:
- Sledge Hockey — ice hockey on double-blade sledges for people with physical disabilities on the lower body.
- CP Football — the adaptation of association football for disabled athletes, the 7-a-side version is for athletes with cerebral palsy or similar.
- Deaf Basketball — basketball that is played by the hearing impaired. Players use sign language to communicate with each other including the refs.
- Torball — a team sport for the visually impaired with an inflated ball with bells inside. The aim is to throw the ball through the opponent’s goal line.
- Racerunning — a track and field racing sport for disabled athletes, in which they use a specially designed tricycle.
While not every state has an adaptive sports program… yet, there are currently over 436 programs in the United States that are paving the way, creating opportunities and empowering individuals and communities all over the world. Move United alone provides over 70 different adaptive sports through their chapters.
The 3 Trackers Program
Three Trackers of Ohio, a chapter of Move United, is one such program that is dedicated to the promotion of adaptive recreational sports, providing opportunities to learn how to ski. This volunteer non-profit organization is actually one of the oldest adaptive programs in the United States and has evolved to now offer snow skiing, water skiing, kayaking, paddle boarding and bicycling. Founded in the 60’s by skiing pioneer Bert Fischer and ski legend, the “Father of 3-Track Skiing,” Paul Leimkuhler, the term “Three Trackers” comes from the impression or tracks that a skier with an amputated leg leaves in the snow (one ski and two outriggers).
Paul Leimkuhler competed in the 1936 U.S. Olympic Cycling Trials as a teenager and was the 1938 Ohio State Cycling Champion but in 1944 an injury would change the course of his life. While fighting in the Battle of the Bulge as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, it became medically necessary for Leimkuhler’s left leg to be amputated above the knee.
With a passion for skiing, Leimkuhler made it his mission to pursue sports for amputees. He founded the Leimkuehler Limb Company, which continues to provide patients with innovative quality prosthetic and orthotic care and was instrumental in creating the first outrigger poles for skiing. Later, in 1981 Leimkuehler was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and National Disabled Ski Hall of Fame for his pivotal role in the amputee and adaptive skiing community.
Joining 3 Trackers
Adaptive Sports Programs like 3 Trackers of Ohio take pride in their approach. It’s important to put their mind of the participating individual at ease and explain what they will be doing and with what equipment. The equipment is fitted to them and adjustments are made to ensure comfort and safety. They are then gently introduced into the activity, gradually building the level of difficulty to match their level of comfort and interest.
3 Trackers shared that the individuals who participate are excited, nervous, and maybe even afraid in the beginning. By getting them involved and going at a pace that makes them comfortable, they are able to grow, learn, become more active, and take more risks, allowing themselves to open up. This not only has a positive impact on their willingness to participate with the activity but the families often see a positive impact on their overall being; doing better in school, social settings and interactions with others.
Families share that their children get a different outlook on life and begin to understand that their disability is not limiting, it is just an obstacle that can be overcome – not be a barrier. They learn that “If I can do this, I can do anything”. It is more than a sport, it is showing and teaching a person that their limits are often in their head, and if they are open to pushing out into the unknown and take a chance, they can achieve greatness, both on the hill and off.
Related: Meet: Dr. Christopher Najarian
Finding a Program near you
Parents of children with special needs can often fear introducing their child to activities, worrying about injuries, comfortability level and social limitations. Many even tend to withdraw their kids because they feel the kids may not cope. 3 Trackers encourages parents to never regard sports as something they are incapable of doing, but to remember that the only way any child can excel is if they take the bold step and try it out.
Engage your child, and yourself in the process:
- Talk with your child’s health care professional first to understand how your child’s disability may affect their ability to safely take part in adaptive sports programs
- Explore activities that your child does or might enjoy, either live or on TV
- Evaluate how much physical activity is right for your child
- Don’t be scared – Limitations are only in the heart so keep it positive and encourage participation
Organizations such as 3 Trackers of Ohio are often linked together through larger organizations that allow networking. Being a chapter of Move United, a national organization, allows their program and each chapter to network and work alongside each other to benefit its members.
There are many state-sponsored and local programs, often provided through schools. Check with your child’s physician, school, community sports clubs, parks and recreation programs, and even the middle and high schools. Coaches may also know of programs and resources in the area or even provide 1:1 instruction.
- Cody Breaking the Tape: How Disabilities Didn’t Stop Him in Life
- Honoring the Legendary Dick Hoyt
- Adapted PE for Reality
- The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Fitness Programs
- The Family Factor of Five: Making Time for Fitness (and Actually Doing It)
- Fitness Equipment Worth Buying
- Adapted Phy. Ed. Is It in Your Child’s IEP? It Should Be.
- Fitness Fun: Incorporating Fitness into the Classroom
- Benefits of Special Diets for Special Needs Children
This post originally appeared on our January/February 2023 Magazine