Unified Sports: Coaching for Social Inclusion
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National Sports Directors, staff and basketball coaches from seven countries in the Asia Pacific region and five countries in the East Asia region gathered in Singapore for an unprecedented Unified Sports “Train the Trainer” course, on March 1-3, 2013.
A partner (right) at the Unified Sports Training during the weekend.
Why Unified Sports
“In Asia Pacific and East Asia, Unified Sports is in its infancy - there have been activities over the past few years, but these are mostly one off events,” explains Simon Koh, Asia Pacific Director of Operations. “The Unified Sports Train the Trainer course equips Coaches with a structured approach to Unified Sports that fully develops coaching and competition pathways and enable unified athletes and unified partners to be team-mates on the field and friends off the field.
Coaches connect the team
Coaches are the lynchpin of the Unified Sports process. It is more than pairing unified athletes and unified partners with similar abilities in the right sport. They catalyze social inclusion – athletes experience a sense of belonging, and for partners, a better understanding of people with intellectual disabilities. Through leading by example, Coaches empower the team in values like teamwork and sportsmanship, showing them equality lies on and off the playing field.
Trainers Mike Bovino and George Kent (4th & 5th from left) with Asia Pacific National Sports Directors, staff and basketball coaches.
Led by the best
With over 40 years of Special Olympics experience between them, two US-based trainers with a deep grounding in Unified Sports were specially brought in to lead the course, which focused on basketball and football.
George Kent is the Director of Organizational Development in Special Olympics Massachusetts (SOMA), and is a certified trainer in Unified Sports, Games Management, and Athlete Leadership. He also oversees SOMA’s Coaches Education System, Healthy Athletes and Project Unify programs.
Mike Bovino is the Vice President of Development for Special Olympics District of Columbia. In the last 25 years, Mike has been actively involved in Unified Sports, holding more than 90 Unified Sports coach trainings and presentations at national, regional and state level. As part of a team, he developed the Unified Sports Guide teaching syllabus. Mike currently is in both the Global Unified Sports Advisory Group and the United States Unified Sports Committee.
Players slowly warm up to each other.
From Theory to Practice
Mike and George lectured the group on the fundamentals of Unified Sports on the first day, and then took theory into practice on day two, working with local athletes and partners from the Singapore National Basketball men's Under-18 team. Both groups have not met before this session, creating a realistic scenario for the Unified Sports process, where teammates are placed together in a new team.
Athletes and Partners were assessed on their abilities, in dribbling, perimeter shooting and rebounding, in order to be grouped according to skill level. As they were put through their paces, players slowly warmed up to each other, with shy smiles and handshakes. When it was time to play in their new teams, all players rose to the challenge, working together to set up plays and layups. A towering partner passed the ball to a much shorter athlete, offering the chance to shoot a basket. The athlete misses, but was hardly bothered, quickly moving in position for the next play.
Partner Lim Swee Hock found this first time experience “a great opportunity for both parties to share what this sport is about, learn from each other.” Currently playing power forward for his team, Swee Hock hopes that Singapore can come up with a Unified Basketball League in the future.
Class of 2013: The first batch of Unified Coaches from East Asia and Asia Pacific.
The coaches were enlightened by the training, and are eager to take Unified Sports forward in their local Special Olympics.
Korea’s Ji Suk Chae says: “We have a few unified teams and many unified activities at school and community level. So it has been going on, but there wasn’t a structure to it. This training gives a good formula to develop Unified Sports in Korea, for me to train more coaches. The challenge now is to motivate these coaches and create a long term plan for Special Olympics Korea.”
Adds China’s Zhang Shaohua: “The two trainers are great with their knowledge. During practical, they could cite and illustrate various examples for our understanding, showing their wealth of experience.”
Chinese Taipei’s Chao Yikuai says the training reframed his thinking on Unified Sports: “the ultimate goal is Social Inclusion.” He’s eager to build on his current network of schools and companies, to spread the concept.
For Coach Chao, a physical education teacher who has been involved with Special Olympics for almost 20 years, the most rewarding thing is helping “many athletes build up their confidence, their status in family and society.” He notes with satisfaction that he’s starting to pass the baton to the next generation, “the coaches that attended the Pyongchang Winter Games were my students.”
Passion is key
As George observed after the training: “The coaches brought that same enthusiasm we see in the US, and that’s important, you need people who have the passion for Special Olympics, to champion Unified Sports, talk to leaders and people to make the program run.”
He noted on the differences, such as the separation of special schools and mainstream schools in some countries, offering less opportunities to get schoolchildren with and without intellectual disability together. “Start with solving the physical separation, then comes the social inclusion.”
Another difference is the frequent association of Special Olympics with Paralympics in many countries here. George feels continual awareness is key, to raise the profile of Special Olympics in Asia Pacific and East Asia.
Mike agrees, to take Unified Sports forward: “You need champions. People who understand Special Olympics.”
See training highlight pictures on Flickr
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