It’s a fact that more people with disabilities are looking for a way to become active through sports. While the idea is great, this can be hard for a coach because many team leaders don’t know how to include players with disabilities. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not discrimination, really, it’s more about not knowing how to make someone with a disability part of the team. However, with the „Americans with Disabilities Act“ in place, every coach has to find a way to include these athletes. I’ve put together some thoughts on how athletes with disabilities can be included in team sports.

It may seem challenging at first, but when given the opportunity to include a player with disabilities, you (as a coach) should accept this special challenge with open arms. If you are positive in the way you go about it, the team is likely to see it as a great experience for everyone. Worrying or feeling negative about the impact the physically challenged person may have on the team will benefit no one. Even better: In many areas, having the disability present can be beneficial. If you have players that have difficulty hearing, for example, you can always write plays and drills on a chalkboard. This can be beneficial for other players, such as those that learn better from visuals than oral direction.

No matter what, you must always treat each player as a true athlete, physically challenged or not. Everyone is coming to basketball practices and wanting to play in games for the same reasons. It may be so they can stay active, or they might just love the sport they are participating in. Find out more about each player by having a one-on-one conversation. This helps you get to know everyone’s “why” for playing as well as discover areas where you can help the team succeed as a whole.

Always shuffle the leadership of your team around among the players. Allow the members with disabilities the chance to lead the other players now and then as well. While you want to choose them as the leader of something they can handle, sometimes it can be a great thing to get them out of their comfort zone. Putting them as the head player for drills or other areas proves that you are confident in their abilities. This will, in turn, boost the player’s confidence and make them feel welcomed to the team.

Don’t be afraid to adapt a specific play or drill to fit the needs of a player with disabilities. Your team’s situation is not the first time a coach has gone out of his way to make the plays more accessible to certain players. In all actually, it could be a simple problem they have with a specific play that can easy be solved with a work-around. Never hesitate to ask the player’s opinions on how they could better accomplish the drill. They are the ones living with the disability. Therefore, they are likely to know the most suitable solution.

Coaches should educate themselves on the rules of including those with disabilities in the specific sport they are leading. It’s likely that learning this information will make it easier on a team to include a player with a disability. Most sports already have accommodations in place, so that knowledge can make it easier for you, the physically challenged player, and the other players on the team to create a unified front during game play.

It’s important that coaches do not treat the player with disabilities as though he cannot accomplish what the rest of the team can. Expectations that are in line with all team members are expected of this player, too. He needs to be given support and the chance to improve his game just as everyone else does. While it’s not a good idea to expect the unrealistic, you do want to challenge every player, with or without a disability, so they can better themselves and be proud of what they accomplish. When you as a coach treat a physically challenged player like the rest, the other team members are likely to do the same.

As a coach, you should be sure that you are promoting independence among all of your players. Things that every team member is expected to do before and each practice should be done by those with disabilities, too. For example, putting equipment where it belongs at the end of the day is a common task for a team. The player with disabilities should not be excused from this rule. Even if it takes them longer than their teammates, fostering independence shows you are seeing them as an equal contributor to the team.

If you feel you are struggling with effectively including a player with disabilities in your team, be sure to talk to other coaches who have gone through this procedure. Information can be obtained online by visiting sports message boards and forums as well, or contact your basketball federation for additional help. Don’t feel you are alone or are the only person who has dealt with physically challenged players. There are others out there with the experience that could be the answer to any concerns or problems you are having.

It is common for a coach to face difficulties when including someone with disabilities. Above all, it is vital that you stay positive and work with the player to develop solutions that benefit them as well as the team. Following the above steps can make the inclusion a much easier transition for everyone!