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Child and supervisor in poolGeneral Characteristics of Disabilities

Coaches may encounter players with various disabilities. It is important for coaches to have some knowledge of different disabilities. Some of the different types of disabilities athletes may have include: Autism, Learning Disability (LD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disability (ADHD), Mental Retardation (MR), Cerebral Palsy (CP), Hearing Impaired, Visually Impaired, Diabetes, Asthma, Seizure Disorders.

Three areas of concern coaches need to familiarize themselves with are the physical, cognitive and social aspects of athletes with disabilities. An athlete with a physical disability may have difficulty with movements, a low fitness level or hyperactivity. Cognitive deficits may include learning delays, short attention span, difficulty with abstract concepts, and difficulty with transfer of learning. Social aspects of athletes with disabilities include resistance to change, difficulty with transition and routines, difficulty following standard behaviors, and easily frustrated or afraid to fail (see Lavay & Semark 2000).

Becoming a Coach

In the past athletes with disabilities have contributed to sports by teaching themselves the skills needed for a particular sport. Most athletes in the past have self-coached themselves in order to participate in particular sports. Recently, many people have become interested in coaching athletes with disabilities. A study conducted by DePauw & Gavron (1991) found that the primary reason given for coaching athletes with disabilities was due to previous experience as a coach. The most second more common reason was non coach volunteer. Few became coaches after competing as an athlete with a disability or because a family member was active in disabled sport. Overall, majority involved prior to coaching athletes with disabilities, participated in some form of sport.

Disability sport can transpire at all levels of competition. Competition can occur locally, at the state, regional, national or international level. Sport competition can occur during the summer or winter. The increased amount of sport competition available, has brought forth several positions for coaches. The more competitive disability sport becomes, the more of a need for knowledgeable or certified coaches. Training procedures for becoming a coach are available through workshops, clinics, and schools. Various organizations hold training sessions for people who are interested in receiving coaching certification for coaching athletes with disabilities.

Most importantly, coaches should be aware of the various kinds of disabilities. Having a background of knowledge in this area could save an athletes life during critical situations. The webpage below introduces and defines various disabilities coaches need to be aware of when coaching athletes with disabilities.

Coaching Methods

  • Approach the person as an athlete

    • Make the athlete feel welcome, but treat them all athletes the same

  • Create a positive environment, establish an atmosphere of acceptance of athletes

    • Learn names quickly

    • Be supportive and patient

  • Set achievable goals

    • Develop short term objectives to meet the goals

    • Keep players' maturation in mind

    • Make sessions challenging

    • Ensure skill development is progressive

    • Encourage athletes to meet the requirements of the sport to the best of their ability

  • Vary sessions

  • Ensure equal opportunities

    • Include supervised play with minimal guided instruction

    • Allow every individual to participate

  • Teach skills systematically

    • Plan skills for sessions and introduce easiest one first

    • Teach one skill at a time

    • Regularly review skills from previous weeks

    • Provide repetition

    • Provide instant feedback

    • Use lots of praise when necessary.

  • Demonstrate

    • Make sure all players can see the demonstration

    • If you cannot demonstrate a skill, choose someone who can

  • Involve all players

    • Have ample equipment available

    • Use small groups

  • Develop team spirit so that each participant feels a belonging to the team

    • Work within an enjoyable and fun atmosphere


Sport Organizations


Associated Website





These coaching pages were developed by Andrea Woodson,

Doctoral Student, Texas Woman's University

page last updated 1/3/2017 1:00 PM