Sport should be for everyone – and Andy Warmington is helping to make that happen in Solihull.
What can often hold people with learning disabilities back from sport is lack of confidence about trying something new, and difficulty finding activities they feel comfortable doing.
After 10 years as a squash coach Andy was invited by the national body for the game, England Squash, to get involved in a project for adults with learning disabilities. He had no previous personal experience of working with this client group but focused on how best to transfer his existing skills.
Since that first project Andy has built up a full-time programme through his own community interest company (CIC) Inclusive Sports Academy.
As well as squash Andy offers sessions in ‘soft archery’ and boccia, a game similar to bowls that is designed specifically for people with disabilities affecting their motor skills and a Paralympic sport. “Boccia is a very inclusive activity that’s easy for everyone to understand. You can involve a number of wheelchair users at a time and use all types of setting, including the living room of a care home,” explains Andy.
He has completed a number of disability sports courses through bodies like UK Sport and Sports Coach UK, as well as ongoing training with SoLO (Solihull Life Opportunities), a learning disability charity he also works for regularly, which improves his social care knowledge.
What he really enjoys is developing a rapport with the members of his various sports groups, and has adapted his coaching style to their needs.
“There are some differences in my approach. I’ve found I need to be more specific, and not assume understanding. I break activity down into small stages, and have noticed a real boost to people’s development when you use targets and set achievable goals.”
Arranging activities at the right place and the right time can overcome practical barriers like the availability of transport and one-to-one support. Most of his activities are offered at existing day centres.
“I want to remove potential obstacles as much as possible,” says Andy, “like running classes that tie in with day centre timetables.”
Typically 10 people take part in a session. “I’ll lead it but individuals’ support workers and personal assistants (PAs) act as assistant coaches,” explains Andy. Sometime he tailors activity to individual needs, like allowing practice shots in squash.
The challenge can be building up people’s interest. Initially awareness can be spread through support workers and PAs, especially if clients are heavily reliant on them, and day centre staff. Andy offers free taster sessions to address any concerns. “It’s often a matter of confidence if someone has never done sport before,” he says. “It can be daunting but all the sessions aim to encourage people’s self-esteem and build a sense of belonging.”
It’s equally important to keep people motivated, especially as they can just turn up for one session at a time, removing the possible pressure of long-term commitment. To retain clients’ interest, Andy has introduced incentives like a player of the week competition (with a trophy for the winner) and team matches against other clubs and day centres.
Boccia is proving increasingly popular since Solihull Active first asked him to deliver a session. He provides classes at a number of day centres and mainstream leisure facilities. Andy is introducing the sport at Solihull Indoor Bowls Club, working with Solihull SUSTAiN, which supports voluntary and community groups. It was also Solihull Active that encouraged him to get the disability-friendly sport of soft archery off the ground.
Getting funding can be a challenge – “you need to make sure you go for the right pots of money”, says Andy. He has cast his net widely, obtaining grants from National Lottery schemes like Awards for All and Big Local, projects such as Sported, which aims to use sport to develop disadvantaged communities and young people, local public health services and nearby sports clubs, including Warwickshire Squash and Racketball Association.
And he is steadily gaining a great reputation. As someone working with him on the bowls club project says: “Andy has shown himself to be a perfect natural when engaging with a broader audience. His success has been based on a few core values – enthusiasm, patience and an optimistic persona that has instilled self-belief and joy in those he has supported.”
Secrets of my success
- Consider potential barriers like transport
- Set individual and manageable goals
- Take time to settle people’s worries
- Keep sending clear messages about activities
- Find ways to motivate and inspire