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Adapting the Beautiful Game

Many of us take for granted some of the seemingly simple things in life.

Near the top of the list is the ability to move about and walk without major restriction, and subsequently the ability to play and be involved in the game of football.

Not everyone is so fortunate. 11% of Kiwi kids aged 0-14 have physical and/or learning disabilities which mean they often miss out on the opportunity to be involved in team sports.

Fortunately, there are some fine folks out there doing something to help these children, and this was on display in Dunedin on Sunday.

A group of children had the opportunity to experience playing adaptive football, which allows for modifications to the rules and equipment to allow anyone to participate.

It was incredibly inspiring to watch this group of children in action, some of whom had never had opportunities to play a team sport before. Children in wheelchairs, walkers, and on crutches were joined by children with learning disabilities.

Also joining them on the pitch were four Dunedin Technical and Southern United players – Emily Morison, Chelsea Whittaker, Katie Foulkes, and Kirsty Hayr. They brought along the Kate Sheppard Cup which Dunedin Tech claimed only a week earlier.

Speaking to these players after the game, they were all blown away and humbled by the skill and determination shown by the kids to overcome the obstacles placed in front of them.

Dunedin Technical’s Football Development Officer Stuart Moffatt helped to organise the session, which was part of the Halberg Disability Sport Foundation’s “Everybody In” day. Stuart described adaptive football –

“The emphasis is on ‘adaptive’, so depending on who you’ve got playing and what abilities they have you can adjust the game. If you want to you can use big balls like we did today, or we can use small balls. You can modify the size of the field and the goals. Sometimes you have players with physical disabilities and sometimes it’s kids with learning disabilities, or today we have a combination, so it’s all about turning up and adapting the game to the players on the pitch.”

“The good thing about football is it’s such a simple game – all you need is a pitch, goals, and a ball and you can start playing”, Stuart added. “So you come along and you adapt it to the abilities of certain players and just try and give them the buzz that you would get in everyday football.”

What was immediately apparent was how much many of the kids were having to push themselves outside their own comfort zone to play the game – but the smiles after the match showed just how rewarding it was for them.

Having the Kate Sheppard Cup on display was a nice bonus, and the kids loved getting photos holding the cup with the Tech players after the match.

Stuart summed up the importance of providing opportunities to these children.

“One of the things that we really want to do as a football community in Dunedin is use football as a means to improve people’s abilities and confidence. Football is a great metaphor for life and I think we can see that in people trying their hardest and giving everything a go. You don’t have to be an elite sportsman to enjoy football and that’s one thing people should remember.”

There are different options available around the country for people with disabilities to get involved in football and other sports. In some of the larger centres like Auckland and Wellington, there are some clubs which run specialised sessions throughout the year.

For those that decide they would like to take their participation to the next level, there are competitive 7-a-side and 5-a-side variations of football that are both Paralympic events; the 7-a-side game established primarily for people that have cerebral palsy, while the 5-a-side game is open to athletes with a visual impairment.

Powerchair Football is a competitive team sport for people with physical disabilities who use power wheelchairs, and has clubs in Auckland and Christchurch, although is yet to have a national organisation established.

The beauty of adaptive football, however, is that it is the perfect entry point for children to get involved in a team sport. They can get out on the pitch with others, able-bodied and disabled, and experience the thrill of being part of a team.

If you or someone you know might be interested in getting involved in adaptive football, be sure to contact your local Halberg Adviser (regional contacts in the link below). If you’re in Dunedin, you can get in touch with Stuart Moffatt as he is keen to establish an adaptive football team at Dunedin Technical and immerse them in the club environment.

Categories: Other Football Topics

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