How to Make Kids’ Sport Activities Inclusive

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If you are a parent, a coach, or a physical education instructor, you should read this article. It will greatly benefit you as a professional but more importantly, it will benefit kids!

At some point in our lives we have had the experience of being left out. Maybe it was a friend’s party, during a work project, or family discussion. It isn’t always a pleasant feeling! Now think about it from the kid’s perspective. This feeling is amplified 1,000 times more! When a kid gets excluded from participating in a game, it feels like the most disappointing and upsetting event that ever happened in our universe.

What can you do to prevent this feeling? You can to make your activities and environment more inclusive! And here are some ways to make it happen.

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There is a process that exists in Therapeutic Recreation called A-PIE Process—Assess, Plan, Implement and Evaluate. Even though Implementation and Evaluation are important, this article will explore Assessment and Planning. These are the parts where inclusivity can be addresses.

Assessment of the class or group is crucial before starting the activity. It allows you to:

  • Establish the abilities of each child (physical and cognitive) and their ability level.

  • Identify the motivation for each child’s participation, such as: to be like dad, to play like Beckham, because my friends do it, always wanted to try, etc.

  • Identify the barriers for participation, including: shyness, fear (to get hurt, to lose, to be judged), unfamiliarity of the activity or class, class schedule, etc.

For example, a soccer coach should find out who has the fastest reflexes (Goalkeepers need those) and who is the fastest runner (the Forward). But what about the child who missed every single ball kicked toward him or does not run as fast as Usain Bolt. The kids are undoubtedly amazing, but what if their abilities are not on par with the others on the team. What do you do?  You cannot deny their participation—it just is not right or fair.

This is where the Planning starts:

  • Plan your activity according to the abilities and needs of the kids. If your soccer team were a group of fearless toddlers, then maybe you don’t need the FIFA-sized soccer field.

  • Make sure it’s inclusive for everyone. After going through the first step, you should know the range of the kids’ abilities.

This next section focuses on how to make activities inclusive:

There are many different ways to remember how to add inclusivity to your programs. Using the acronym  PETRA: Participants, Equipment, Teaching style, Rules and Area will help you. Now to break it down!

  • Participants—Good activities are about interactions! Be knowledgeable when assigning roles according to the kids’ skills level, abilities and manage the relationship within the group. For example, placing conflicting kids together can help them bond over accomplishing a common goal.  

  • Equipment—With the use of imagination and a little effort, every piece of equipment can be modified to fit the ability level of participants. For example, this can be by lowering the net, changing the size of the ball, opt for lighter gear—there are many options. It may not make a big difference for everyone but for the kid with lower visual ability, that big, bright birdy will change the game!

  • Teaching style—Sometimes just saying what to do and how to do is not enough. The younger the kids, the more visual you should be. Use gestures, actions, demonstrations, and pictures to help them learn. Sometimes one-on-one time before class is helpful for the kids who are shy or lack skills. Boosting their self-confidence and encouraging them will go a long way.

  • Rules—Rules can be always simplified or broken down into more manageable steps. Master one step, then move on to the next!

  • Area—Remember the example about the size of the soccer field? It works both ways: you can increase or decrease the playing field. Other play area factors include temperature, the roughness of the play surface, or environment (indoor or outdoor setting).

There are many other methods available to make your program and activities more inclusive, like the TREE Method, the CHANGE IT Method, and the STEP Method. You can and should check them out! Everyone is different (even adults!), so find the method that works for you. By making your program all inclusive, you are teaching kids to be inclusive!   

Recommended readings

Inclusion Understood From the Perspective of Kids With Disability

Susan L.Kasser, Rebecca K. Lytle. Inclusive Physical Activity: Promoting Health for a Lifetime. 2nd Edition.