It's just coaching

"It's just coaching"

As a mentor supporting people who coach disabled players, I have found myself using the phrase “It’s JUST coaching” more and more recently.  

I need to clarify though – I don’t mean ‘just coaching’ in the sense of ‘merely’ coaching. Anyone who helps in any way is doing their bit for others.  

What I mean is that some people are apprehensive about coaching disabled people, without realising that they already have many of the tools to deliver inclusive, enjoyable, and challenging practices. Mentoring is often just helping them recognise their strengths and reflect on how simple adaptions can include players with different needs. (Don’t worry - it’s just coaching!) 

The FA’s Football Your Way - Three Step Challenge has tips on using ‘STEP’ (Youth Sports Trust, 2022) (considering Space, Task, Equipment, People & Safety) to be more inclusive and change the level of challenge. With a little knowledge of someone’s needs, this simple strategy will help any coach adapt their practices more effectively. 

For me, the best way of getting this knowledge is to ask the player! E.g. what colours they can distinguish, how far away the ball can be seen, and are simple written instructions helpful? 

Another useful coaching tool is the activity inclusion model below (fourth generation: the activity inclusion model april 2017 AIM evolved from Black & Stevenson’s inclusion spectrum) which supports a player-centered approach. It helps you think about what players can do instead of what they can’t do, and helps you make sessions appropriate to players’ different motivations and needs.  AIM encourages you to consider the player's ability, the activity, the player's impairment and the setting when designing you practice. It provides 4 different practice types: 

Open practice - This type of activity is simple – everyone does the same thing. Players can work at their own level, but nothing is changed, adapted or modified. Open practices also give you time to assess your players – maybe during a warm-up activity – to work out how you can meet their individual needs. 

Modified practice - In this approach, you design one main activity for your group. You then adapt this activity to meet the needs of different individuals. Using STEP is a great way to do this.  

Parallel practice - Everyone takes part in the same type of activity, but players are organised into groups according to ability and the activity is set at a level to match this.  

Specific practice - Here you create activities adjusted specifically to the needs of certain groups. This is reflected in the impairment-specific pathway, for example, blind football. 

We don’t have to be an expert in every disability or condition, we just need to find out a bit more about the person in front of us who has come along and trusts us to help them play the game. 

I find that once coaches realise this they grow in confidence.  

Things that make good mainstream coaches (e.g. giving information in small chunks) also make good inclusive coaches. You might have some players who are deaf, need a frame, have a learning difficulty, or whose vision isn’t the same as everyone else, but once we allow for this 

(and by the way one definition of ‘just’ is ‘fair’) 

‘It’s JUST coaching!’ 

From coaches who have received some support recently:

‘Thanks for your advice, it explained a lot about how we can understand and adapt for our player with autism’ 

‘I feel like I understand better how things are for this player and how amazing they actually do, playing football with their friends… it was nice to give them a positive outlook on football’ 

'I didn’t realise how such simple changes to the sessions I was delivering could make it so easy to include everyone while still challenging them’ 

To find out more about these coaching tools and being a more inclusive coach’ check out the UK Coaching / Activity Alliance Inclusive Activity Programme.

Here is also an athletics-specific inclusion spectrum guide.

If you have any questions about anything in this blog, please post them below.

  • Former Member
    Former Member in reply to Lee Cooper


    'People don't care how  much you know until they know how much you care'

    This quote I first heard on a coaching course ( attributed to Teddy Roosevelt) some time ago was the best way I could sum up your post.

    A smile or a laugh is a great reward for us coaches – it shows the connection you made as well as the player’s enjoyment. Revisiting the scenario a week later showed that you remembered and cared.

    Asking the player and parents/carers to come early worked well for you too. It is definitely one to consider, in any setting, for a new player if you can. It gives them a chance to get used to the set up and perhaps avoid that feeling of being overwhelmed when arriving as lots is going on . It also gives the coach a bit of time to engage with the player before they get caught up in looking after the whole group.

    I also think giving a time frame helps some players as it gives them a sense of security, knowing they don’t have to be involved for the whole time.  In your case the player telling you ‘only five minutes’ shows he was a bit nervous about the others arriving but trusted you  to help him cope – perhaps otherwise it would have been a straight ‘No’ – this is great progress from last week.

    Inclusion is sometimes about patience, making those small gains that build into larger ones. You are fortunate to have a coach who could help you with this for the rest of the hour, it certainly seems like a great environment to be in, and I look forward to hearing more.

    I’ll close with another line from the same course that applies to every coaching setting, this time from Maya Angelou 

     'I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.'

  • Thanks Micheal

    update on the dinosaur, 

    at the start of the first game i explained the senario to him, and he smiled and laughed, which was a great response, he also bagged a goal.

    another victory for us coaches and another youngster with down syndrome was when he came for the first week he did not participate, so for this week i asked his parents to come 30 mins earlier when it was quiet so he felt more comfortable.

    as the other youngsters started to arrive he said to me "just five minutes".

    so i asked another coach to play pass with him on the sidelines, this " five minutes" became an hour 

  • Former Member
    Former Member in reply to Lee Cooper


    Thanks for the comments, and for sharing a great example of creative inclusive coaching.

    You’ve touched on some key things that I’d like to explore.

     By considering each player individually, you have got to the heart of making any coaching session enjoyable and inclusive, while also providing an opportunity to set  an appropriate level of challenge.

    Did you find that starting with an ‘Open’ practice gave you a bit of breathing space with this new group to stand back and observe?

    Did starting with a game help with getting everyone engaged and playing quickly?

    When you moved it onto a different practice, I love the way you used something that they could relate to, which connects with them and connects them to the practice. This works particularly well with younger players, but even with older players relating to a theme or a favourite player often works too.

    The player who became a dinosaur gave you a bit of a problem to solve!

     I really like how you have thought about working with him and his world rather than shutting it down to ‘manage’ him , as some coaches might have done.

    It’s also a good reminder that while coaching,  we might not have all the answers in the moment  ( and that’s okay) but on reflection afterwards we can explore solutions and changes for next time.

    In my blog I said that this is ‘Just’ coaching  your post shows how in any setting we can use STEPS - Space, Task, Equipment, People & Safety to adapt, and frame these to suit our players.

    From a Player Capabilities point of view, the activities will include a lot of

    Scanning, Movement, Timing,  Positioning and Deception, as well as  Technique when they are using a football or trying to take one from someone else.

    Also, starting with a game, going into a practice and back into a game reflects the use of

     A ‘Whole – Part – Whole’ approach which is great for engagement, and observing progress.

    One reason for my blog was to help coaches realise how good they already are at adapting practices, and the variety of outcomes they are already enabling their players to have. Your post is a great example of this, thank you for taking the time to respond.

    I ‘d love hear how it goes next week !

  • great read thamks Micheal.

    i started our first ever disability football for juniors last week, and it was amazing with fantastic youngsyers

     i adopted the open pratice so i could eveluate each youngster individually.

    i will continue to do this for the next few weeks.

    i started with a game Griffindor v slytherin 

    PART way through dribbling to different cones, when collected the cone they can go and score and put the cone in the goal winners are the ones with no cones left on pitch.

    then finished with a game again

    the first challenge i will tackle is a youngster who said they are a dinosaur and everyone should run away.

    the youngster just stands there waiting for everyone to run away, which obviously they dont which leads 

    to the youngster getting upset.

    so this week i will explain that all his teamates are dinosaurs and he has to try to pass the dinosaur egg

    to the other dinosaurs to get it safely into the nest.

    i cant wait for each week