Adaptive sports play a vital role in the lives of kids who use wheelchairs. I learned this firsthand growing up with spina bifida and being exposed to numerous adaptive sports opportunities. Now I see it in action every day as the Executive Director of ABLE Youth, a youth wheelchair sports and independence nonprofit in Nashville, Tennessee.
The benefits carry over into much more than sports, and it doesn't matter if kids are great athletes with a competitive drive or just want to participate and find a way to be active in the community. Through adaptive sports, kids build social skills not only with other kids with disabilities who may participate alongside them teaching them that their disabilities aren't barriers to an active life, but also with their able-bodied peers in school, as sports give them something in common. Adaptive sports builds self-confidence and a motivation to succeed and excel. They pick up independence skills along the way and are empowered to strive to one day live independently, go to college, and have a career. Learning adaptive sports as a kid builds healthy habits, staving off the medical problems associated with sitting, that hopefully last a lifetime.
So, just what adaptive sports are out there for kids, both individual and team-based? Here's just a small sampling that I've participated in myself and with our kids at ABLE Youth.
The National Wheelchair Basketball Association has youth teams across the country for kids as young as kindergarten. There are other independent programs, some even part of the school system, out there too.
Road races are a great way for kids to participate in the local sports scene and at any distance or pace that is comfortable to them, either in their regular chair, a racing chair, or a handcycle. Racing doesn't have to be about being the fastest but just enjoying being out there. Through organizations like Achilles International, guides can be paired with athletes with disabilities to have someone to talk to during the race, to help provide a little extra safety room among other runners, or to provide any assistance needed.
Track and Field
Track and field meets for athletes with physical disabilities are held across the country like the Dixie Games and Endeavor Games. Athletes can train on their own or find a team to compete in all distances on the track and field events like shot put, javelin, and discus.
Archery is great because kids can train and compete alongside able-bodied kids, as well as archery being part of adaptive sports track and field meets.
Many communities offer adaptive tennis lessons, but the rules are so similar (the biggest difference is that two bounces are allowed instead of one) that kids can take lessons and play with others who don't have disabilities.
Water Skiing, Paddleboarding, Sailing, Kayaking
There are so many adaptive water sports! Most can be done on a river, lake, or ocean and require some adaptive equipment, but programs for all types of adaptive watersports can be found across the country. ABLE Youth went paddleboarding last summer and hopes to bring it, along with sailing, to Nashville soon, joining the water skiing and kayaking that we already have.
Swimming is not only great exercise for kids, but kids can swim for fun or competitively. Kids with disabilities can join their regular school or community swim team, or they may prefer to swim with kids with disabilities, classified so that they're swimming against kids of similar ability levels.
Yes, there is adaptive football! Kids move around the field and throw the ball just like in traditional football, and kids both in manual and power chairs play together.
ABLE Youth recently took our kids to a local skate park and had a BLAST! We were welcomed there with open arms, and adaptive skating programs are popping up in many cities. It's also something that kids can do alongside able-bodied friends for fun. Just remember the helmet, elbow pads, and knee pads!
In the winter, snow skiing is a great option. Many ski facilities have their own adaptive programs with instructors who are familiar with teaching kids with disabilities.
Sled hockey is quickly rising as a popular adaptive sport! It's co-ed, and many of the NHL teams also sponsor sled hockey teams.
Dance and cheerleading is another sport that kids can do either in a group of other kids with disabilities or integrated into an able-bodied group. There are adaptive dance and cheer troupes across the country.
About the Author
Amy Saffell resides in Nashville, Tennessee and is the Executive Director of ABLE Youth, a nonprofit that uses sports as a catalyst to teach and motivate kids to become independent in all aspects of daily living. She is also the coordinator of the Adaptive Climbing group in Nashville. Prior to that, she worked for 12 years at a record label. Amy enjoys trying out all kinds of adaptive sports and meeting new friends along the way. She was born with spina bifida and has been a lifelong Quickie user.
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