Remember when you were in elementary gym class and you were going to play a game that involved picking teams? Just a the very thought of thinking about those moments wondering “Am I going to be picked last?” brings an ill feeling to my stomach. We’ve all had those thoughts before though growing up. We all try so hard when we’re young to ‘fit in’ with a certain group of people because they’re either popular, good-looking or come from money. Whatever the case may be, if you were one of those kids who came from prestige, everybody wanted to include you. Fitting in requires a lot from a person. It forces you to become something you’re not to gain approval from people you probably don’t like in the first place but since they’re popular, you suck it up, right? Right. We’ve all done it and for what? The chance to be associated with somebody who on the surface is a person ‘in the know’. Men tend to gravitate to the athletes in school and either befriend them very easily or try their damnest to become friends with the football players, jocks and studs of the school. It gives you clout, for a while at least. That’s not exactly what this post is about though. Suppose you find yourself ON the football team but you have some things that need addressed. Your autism diagnosis, inability to focus for long periods of time, your Tourette’s syndrome that sometimes gets out of hand and embarrassing. How do the other guys on the team react? How does the coaching staff set an example for good sportsmanship? We live in an age where being included is not only a social issue but it’s become the subject of some very heated arguments in the world’s of education and government in regards to passing laws to protect these individual from discrimination from other players, students and sadly, sometimes staff members. So how do we become more inclusive with athletes who require more assistance?
Before we can discuss solutions, we have to breakdown what the term ‘Inclusion in Sport’ actually means. People with disabilities face many barriers in life, on an educational level but also in other areas as well such as athletics, the work force, relationships, etc. Therefore, inclusion in sports could mean that breaking down those barriers is the chief component to making people feel included and part of a team. To further explore this definition, there is a distinct difference between inclusion in sports and inclusion in education. Inclusion in an educational setting means that the student in question has all of the modifications, accessibility and assistance that is going to help him/her succeed in their educational journey to the best of their ability and is mandatory the student participate under the law. Inclusion in sports however means something else entirely. Sports inclusion is 100% voluntary by the individual participating in the sport or activity so if someone isn’t participating in sports it may be because the person has lost interest in the activity, not because of supports not being in place to assist that athlete help their team win. Education inclusion is 100% mandatory so if something is not working within the realm of the student’s educational needs, this means that the child is being excluded from learning.
Wordage is extremely important these days as well. It seems we have words to label people of all shapes, sizes and genders. These labels are a type of inclusive item in itself but specifically, how do we refer to athletes or people in general with disabilities? Person-first language is a good place to start. Person-first language is just that, it places the person BEFORE the disability or diagnosis. Instead of saying ‘that autistic girl’, you would say ‘the girl who has autism’. Making this small change in your everyday speech when interacting with people who have disabilities will definitely make things easier if you are interacting with them as a teammate, friend or classmate.
Like everything else, inclusivity is a spectrum. In sports psychology, inclusiveness can be broken up into five different areas:
- Separate Activity – an activity designed for individuals with disabilities.
- Parallel Activities – This is when the individuals with disabilities and the non-disabled participate in the same type of sport, but train and play separately based on the ability level.
- Disability Sport Activity – This is when both non-disabled and individuals with disabilities play a disability sport together, such as in the Paralympics.
- Inclusive Activity – This is when everyone (both those with and without disabilities) plays the same sport, with minimal or no adaptations of the environment or equipment.
- Modified Activity – This is when everyone plays the same sport, with adaptations to fit everyone’s needs and abilities.
Kids and young adults today are more educated on being more inclusive with other students and recognizing those imperfections that may require more time to help the athlete concentrate on drills, plays and techniques. Through technology we also have created uniforms that are more durable, headgear that prevents traumatic brain injuries, concussions and helps lessen acute trauma. Thanks to Title IX which states:
- Under Title IX ‘there are no sport exclusions or exceptions, so football is included under the law. Individual participation opportunities (numbers of athletes participating rather than number of sports) in all men’s sports and all women’s sports are counted in determining whether a school meets the Title IX participation standard.‘
Title IX specifically is an inclusion law for all athletes and students to be able to participate in school-sanctioned sports and activities and will not be discriminated against on the basis of race, gender, creed, etc. Since 1972, this has been a mainstay for high-school athletic programs and after-school activities. More laws similar to Title IX need to be created and passed so that inclusion in not something that needs to be argued among people in this country but is considered normal.
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John Schessler is a Pittsburgh-Based Personal Trainer, Wellness Coach, Writer, Actor and host of the podcast, ‘ManAlive!’, available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. All personal training inquiries and comments should be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org.