Sport participation is important because it teaches kids and it teaches people a lot of skills that can be directly correlated to growth and advancement in life.
When we look at Paralympic sport, it plays an even more important role. We have athletes who can overcome life crippling injuries, or overcome potentially life crippling disabilities such as cerebral Palsy (CP). CP sufferers gain so many benefits from sport because it develops coordination and neural patterning like nothing else, hence why some top Doctors in the world are baffled by the capabilities of some people and athletes with CP when they participate in sport.
I encourage participation in sport at all levels for many different reasons, but when we look at the Paralympics, as with the pinnacle of any event, not just in sport, there are different expectations.
When an athlete makes the Paralympics, participation has been their pathway and there’s now a greater level of expectation.
The paralympics aren't just about participation, although it is vitally important we recognise this level as a great achievement. The paralympics are about performance and professionalism.
When we talk about performance and professionalism at the top level in any sport, in any business, in any aspect of life, we have a set of standards or expectations that will help humans strive to be the best.
The positive aspects about this for Paralympic athletes is what they put into their sport and what they get from their sport can be directly transferred into many other areas of their life.
When a young Paralympic athlete can learn to overcome adversity, can perform the commitment and dedication that is required on a daily basis for weeks, months and years on end, learning time management, skill acquisition, people skills, professionalism, respect to themselves, their support staff and even respect to their competitors - these skills are what can directly transfer into their everyday life and the workforce. There’s also a massive inspirational aspect that they can impact communities with - and i believe that inspiration is the first of many positive cascading effects in peoples lives.
As a coach I'm proud that my athletes displayed high levels of professionalism, respect, and mental resiliency in the recent Rio Paralympics, as its my philosophy that i aim to help my athletes become better people, because this in turn helps them become better athletes.
It’s a rewarding, proud moment to see that displayed on the biggest stage of the athletes careers.
What the people on the outside of our sport don’t see or experience and may not even think about is that every choice in the athletes lives is directly related to the performance on that big stage once every four years. Not sacrifices to be made, but the choices that they make.
As humans, regardless of our age, occupation, hobby or gender - we shape our destiny based on the choices we make.
Our Paralympic athletes make choices to overcome big challenges in their lives, to overcome adversity and learn skills and mindsets of STRENGTH, to display their disability with pride and to prove to themselves that the work that they do helps them achieve their goals.
We all make goals or create visions to strive towards, or help us grow and develop as better humans and make a bigger impact in the world. Imagine the lives of many people with a disability who might have to change schools or skip days at school because of bullying. Who are stared at in the street and thought of as “different”, or who have pity on them and felt sorry for because they’re pushing around in a wheelchair when they actually are extremely grateful for their lives and love their existence.
What the people don’t see is the athletes getting ready for school or work in the morning, packing their training clothes, packing their afternoon snacks, planning their schedules and organising their schedules - getting to training, getting to recovery, coordinating their physio and massage appointments.
Fitting in rest and recovery is also an aspect of the athletes lives that a lot of people don’t see or don’t understand. This rest and recovery is as important as the training itself to allow the body and mind to repair and prepare for the next hit out.
When we get to the major competitions i always say that its an achievement and i’m proud to get my athletes to the start line or onto the field of play 100% fit and healthy - it’s not an easy task.
The athletes step away from their home environment into the Paralympic “bubble” - the Paralympic village. Some people treat it like a holiday and they're often the ones who don’t achieve their goals. Other athletes with the right influence and guidance treat it like a stepping stone on their way to the big stage.
You see pictures and videos of a happy cheerful environment which we were blessed to experience. What most people don’t understand is that there is hours and hours of downtime for the athletes to occupy themselves and conserve their energy, only expending it in training sessions and in their competition. This might sound easy, but think about taking yourself from hours a day of busy lives of school, work, logistics to and from training, study, family commitments etc and then only having one thing to focus on, but at the same time having the distractions of the Whole World in the paralympic village - other athletes, coaches, staff members, entertainers, cultures, food, family members on the outside of the village and social media.
I want to take this opportunity to expose you all to that reality so when you’re watching the athletes performing or about to perform on the big stage of the Paralympics, their whole life’s journey got them to that point. Their courageous choices, their committed choices, their supported choices put them on the big stage - for your entertainment, for their life benefit and for the development of greater humans.
People always say to me that my job must be so rewarding. Well yes it is. But not because i’m “helping” people with a disability like many allude to, but because i’m playing a major role in these athletes lives and their capability to make a bigger impact in this world.
Paralympic sport has a deep trickling effect into the lives and communities of millions World Wide.
I’m a proud Paralympic coach. I’m a proud advocate for Paralympic sport and I look forward to watching the opportunities grow outside of sport for our Paralympic athletes.