Pride or Pressure for Children with Physical Disabilities?
America loves its sports and its sports heroes. The time, money, and products associated with sports is a major industry and sociological phenomenon. Millions of Americans identify closely with sports teams and personalities. Others spend numerous leisure hours practicing and playing individual and team sports.
Development and interest in sports involving persons with physical disabilities has expanded considerably in the '80s and '90s in the areas of opportunities, equipment, training techniques, and competitive level. Have the problems and abuses associated with able bodied sports also developed in the growing movement of sports for the physically disabled? Have sporting opportunities for the disabled put undue pressure physically or psychologically (the little league syndrome) on
Research studies involving sports involvement and the physiological, psychological, and sociological effects on able bodied children have been well researched and published. The general conclusion has been that participation of youth in sport is neither inherently good, nor inherently bad (Martens, 1982). However, there has been very limited research related to the effects of sport participation in children with physical disabilities.
One study (Guilford and Fruehter, 1978) indicated a statistically significant percentage of
parents of children with disabilities involved in sports observed the following traits:
Traits of no perceived significant change from exposure and participation in sports reported by parents were improved daily living skills and improved academic progress.
A study (Monnazzi, 1982) compared personality traits of paraplegic athletes and non-athletes concluded that athletes demonstrated less anxiety, phobia, somatization, and depression. Monazzi also found that personality traits of paraplegic athletes were more similar to those of non-handicapped persons.
An interesting study (Szyman, 1980) reported that sport participation is a rather poor predictor of self concept and physical health. Szyman found that leisure attitudes and self concept appeared to encourage participation in sports (not sport participation facilitating leisure attitudes and self concept, as expected) and that the process of participation brought about life satisfaction.
Sport participation is a complex interaction. The cause and effect relationship between participation and positive development is difficult to identify precisely, but the process of sport experiences can provide important benefits for children with disabilities.
Many parents have agonized for their child as he/she was excluded from the normal physical
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activities of growing up. When sports are adapted and tailored to the needs and disabilities of the young athlete, whether disabled or not, then all children can participate and benefit not only from the sport but peer interaction, cooperation, and understanding. Providing and changing sports to fit the athlete should be the goal of youth developmental sports. When this happens the athlete with a disability does not have to be excluded because he/she cannot change.
Children with disabilities are often assumed to be more dependent and less capable than their able bodied peers. All children, including those without physical disabilities, require assistance to perform some tasks of daily living. Sometimes children with disabilities and able bodied children are not sufficiently challenged because parents and professionals generalize their needs for assistance into other areas of their lives. Adapted athletics often motivates the junior athlete to mature into a more capable individual, challenging their own potential.
Team participation and structured physical and recreational activities are important experiences to the development of young people with physical disabilities. Often children with disabilities are more limited in spontaneous opportunities of everyday activities such as playing tag games, climbing trees, or playing catch.
The National Foundation of Wheelchair Tennis has been providing a series of summer Junior Wheelchair Sports Camps at various locations around the country. One of the locations is often sponsored by the Rehabilitation Education Department, University ofDIinois. These camps are open to all children, ages 7-18, with a physical disability. Instruction is provided in tennis, track and field, physical fitness, basketball, archery, aquatics, weightlifting, wheelchair mobility and maintenance skills by counselors with disabilities who also serve as excellent models. Many of the counselors are former campers. Each individual camp also includes some additional activities such as fishing, softball, or scuba diving.
Another innovative program is the Minnesota Association for Adapted Athletics. Established in 1975 with the goal of interscholastic athletic opportunities for high school students with physical disabilities, it sponsors coeducational competitions in indoor soccer, floor hockey, and indoor softball. Teams are sponsored by individual schools, school districts, or multi-school districts and play a full schedule of league games culminating in a state tournament. Participants are eligible for athletic letters from their school and must meet the same academic guidelines for participation as able bodied student athletes. School cheerleaders, bands, and community support are found at several league games and tournaments.
Although specialized sport camps and teams are excellent resources, public and private youth agencies must do more to include all children in their programs. Hopefully, by educating and assisting youth agencies to creatively adapt sports, the value and benefits of the sporting experience can be a regular, normal opportunity for children with disabilities. The emphasis in junior sports should be developmental and recreational, promoting a progressive sequential approach to learning and refining skills in sports and related physical activities. In addition, individual enjoyment or "fun" is not only present but emphasized. Agencies such as park districts, Boys/Girls clubs, YMCAs, and schools can include all children with individualization, flexibility, and commitment to service delivery. Adaptation and individualization of sports should not be unique to children with physical disabilities but essential for all participants, addressing their distinct developmental status, needs and abilities.
Thomas McPike.M.S., C.T.R.S., is Supervisor of Therapeutic Recreation for the Chicago Park District. For more information, contact Tom at (312) 294-4768.
Martens, R. (1982). Kid sports:Aden of iniquity or land promise. In R.A. Magill, M.J. Ash, & F.L. Small (Eds.). Children in Sport (2nd ed.) Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics
Monnazzi, G. (1982). Paraplegics and sports: A psychological survey. International Journal of Sports Psychology, 13. 85-89.
Szyman, R.J. (1980). The effect of participation in wheelchair sports. Dissertation abstracts International, 41. 804A-805A.
Physical Education Department, Spaulding High School, 1628 W. Washington Building, Chicago, IL 60612, (312) 534-7400
Manager of Therapeutic Recreation Services, Chicago Park District, 425 E. McFetridge Drive, Chicago, IL 60605. (312) 294-2200
Wheelchair Sports, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, 345 E. Superior, Chicago, IL 60611, (312) 908-6000
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Sam S. Manivong, Illinois Periodicals Online Coordinator