Around the world, there are millions of people who live with some kind of disability. No matter their race, gender, creed, or nationality, they are all trying to make the most of their lives, working with what they have, just like everybody else. And one of the best ways they can do just that is through adaptive sports.
Adaptive sports are athletic pursuits that have been adapted to the needs and capabilities of people living with disabilities. Some are adaptations and changes in regular sports, like basketball, soccer, or rugby. On the other hand, things like goalball, for example, are completely new sports set up for the legally blind. There is a host of activities that comprise adaptive sports, all of them doing wonders for the confidence and wellbeing, both physical and mental, of people living with disabilities.
Furthermore, there is a host of events and communities that cater to these sports. The Special Olympics, the Paralympic Games, and the Deaflympics are all just some of the many competitions people with disabilities can be a part of.
The challenges people with impairments face
Now, there is a host of reasons why people living with disabilities face more challenges compared to other people. Namely, these will, of course, depend on the type, and severity, of impairment an individual has. In line with their disability, adaptive sports are then set up to accommodate the issues they face.
Things like low cardiorespiratory fitness, leading to greater fatigue and tiredness overall. They also have an increased dependence on others for activities of everyday life. There are reports of greater levels of obesity, lower muscular endurance, and certain mental issues. Furthermore, all of this is coupled with not being socially accepted, leading to low self-esteem.
Luckily, adaptive sports can regulate most of these issues, get people healthier, promote independence, and in general make their lives better.
The physical benefits
Perhaps the easiest way to explain the importance of adaptive sports is by basically explaining how sports are important for everyone. They build confidence, improve people’s health, and facilities teamwork and socialization.
These sports will help them improve their physical health and their motor functions. Actively participating in a sport tests our bodies, it allows us to exercise, to see what we are capable of. Even people with limited mobility or functionality need to stay active, they need to exercise in order to avoid issues like cardiovascular diseases and obesity, just to give two examples.
If done properly, adaptive sports will strengthen one’s bones and ligaments, it will help correct postural issues to a greater or lesser extent. Of course, all this needs to be approved of, and supervised, by a specialist. They can also control the progression of certain illnesses. By exercising, you will become stronger and healthier, which lowers the dependence one might have on drugs and medication. It can even lead to a minimized need for pain killers and analgesics.
Emotional and mental benefits
Sports of any kind build character, they help improve people’s leadership and teamwork skills, all the while making it easy to make a friend. This is vital for people with disabilities because chances are they never had the opportunity to be part of a sports team. Whether this was because of a genuine like of ability, or a matter of not being accepted, is irrelevant. Through adaptive sports they can get the opportunity to compete, to have people cheer for them, to win trophies against those equal to them in their ability and to be proud of this. This also helps people avoid the feeling of getting a participation trophy, something everybody who ever received one can vouch that it kills confidence.
Mentally, adaptive sports are an excellent way to blow off steam. Getting negative energy outside of one’s body through exercise is very effective. Stress is a natural part of life and taking every opportunity to get it out, to regulate and minimize it, can mean a great deal. Furthermore, by showing others, and themselves, that they can practice a sport, a disabled person may find a completely new source of confidence and pride.
They also get an opportunity to develop a sense of inclusion and independence. Being part of a team makes people feel less alone, it helps us connect better to others, all the while becoming more patient with ourselves.
Things to keep in mind
If you or your loved one wants to take part in an adaptive sport, some things need to be considered. First and above all, a physician needs to be consulted. Adaptive sports are intended to be taxing on the body, but they shouldn’t cause injury or harm. A physician might be able to direct the person with the disability to the right place where they can practice and learn skills needed for adaptive sports.
Second of all, proper preparation is needed. Get the right medication on board, get a health check. Invest in proper protective gear, get a camelbak water bottle and stay hydrated, tailor your diet or the person you are caring for towards the physical activity.
The internet is an excellent resource for finding opportunities to practice these sports. There are many events that celebrate these activities, and looking for one in your area might just give you, or an important person in your life, a life-changing opportunity.
What activities are available
There are numerous adaptive sports available to people. However, first we would like to begin with goalball, a sport we already mentioned in passing. Namely, goalball is a sport made for people who are blind. Invented in 1946 to help veterans that lost their sight in World War II, it’s an excellent form of exercise, and a fantastic way to meet new friends.
With goalball, all the players wear blindfolds, because players that have, let’s say, less than 2 % vision are at a disadvantage against players that have 8% (10% vision means an individual is legally blind). There are two teams, each made up of six players, and three players can play at any one time. The goal of the game is to pass a ball, through a bowling motion, into the opponent’s net. The players use sound, and instructions from their coaches to locate the ball and through it properly. Goalball’s field is the size of a volleyball court.
As far as adapted sports are concerned, golf is rather popular. Players are taught how to play in accordance with their disability. There are versions where they can play it standing up or sitting down, where they use adaptive equipment to stabilize themselves and hit the ball properly.
Paddling is another popular sport. Now, this includes rafting, kayaking, rowing, canoeing – basically sit in something that floats and try to move forward with a paddle. Now, the canoes (or rafts, or kayaks) are outfitted so that the individuals can properly use them. Positioning or gripping can be made easier, as can simply sitting down. People who are unable to use the lower parts of their bodies will find this adaptive sport very appealing.
Swimming is fantastic for the development of the upper body, as well as for correcting imbalances and postural issues. What makes swimming stand out is that there is very little adaptation needed for the actual sport. You just need a pool filled with water. Adaptations will be made through careful observation of the participants, as well as instructing said participants on how to swim in a manner that most suits their bodies.
Wheelchair basketball is a popular and intense adaptive sport. Most of the similar rules to basketball apply, except the players themselves are in wheelchairs. Added rules refer to how the wheelchairs will be in contact, as well as how dribbling is done.
Cycling is very popular, and it also varies a great deal. Namely, the actual sport is the same – people ride bicycles, they race them, or they see how much they can endure. What is adapted here are the actual bicycles. Some adaptive bicycles are set up like tricycles, offering more stability. Some have special seats or handlebars that allow for greater control and handling. Tandem cycling is excellent for the visually impaired to cycle safely.
Of course, these are just some adaptive sports that exist. Snow skiing, volleyball, even horseback riding, and much much more.
Adaptive sports possess the fantastic quality of improving the wellbeing, physical and mental, of people with disabilities. Sports that have been adapted to the needs and abilities of an impaired person are a godsend. They can improve their health, their stamina, they are a great opportunity to make new friends and meet new people. Finally, they are very useful for just building confidence, for getting a bit of belief in oneself through hard work and pushing one's limits.
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