Inclusion in Sports

When Jayden was just over two years old, he was diagnosed with Autism. Since then, our focus has been giving Jayden all the tools we can to help prepare him for life. He has had therapy across many different areas. Speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavioural counselling, and physio. Most of these sessions were one-on-one with his therapist.  So then when Jayden started school, our focus really became about social interaction. Whilst Jayden did partake in social skills groups, which was very helpful, it was very controlled. There were 4-5 therapists watching a group of 6 children, so they were usually guided on how to interact with the other children.

But what happens when you’re not in such a controlled environment, like a basketball court? When you can’t control things like who wins or loses, or how the other team responds, or the loud noises from buzzers and whistles, or whether you get told by the ref that you fouled another player. A basketball court, like most sports, is completely uncontrolled, completely outside of Jayden’s comfort zone. Which meant it would be challenging, but also an amazing environment to learn some new life skills.

As a teenager I loved basketball. I played at a local club for several years and still to this day I am friends with many of teammates (which is a long friendship given my age!).  So, sport has always been a high priority for me. My two girls play netball which they absolutely love. Netball was completely foreign to me, but they loved it and loved their team, so everyone was happy.

When Jayden was about 5 and a half, he joined Shindo Karate. This was something my husband, Fred, felt very strongly about. Karate taught discipline, focus, strength, and fitness which were all very important skills. But for me, it was still a solo activity, and I believed a team sport would be beneficial. So, I thought, hey why not give basketball a go? I’ll be very honest, when Jayden was 6 years old, he didn’t know much about basketball and probably couldn’t have cared much about it either, so it was definitely me doing the encouraging (maybe to relive my own love for the sport!).

We were very fortunate to be supported by Westside Warriors who allowed us to put a brand-new team together for Under 8s. This meant that Jayden could start playing basketball in a new team with his mates. We were also lucky enough to convince not one but two dads to share the load of coaching the team. These days were wonderful, but we really had our work cut out for us. We have now just finished the first season and what an amazing job the coaches have done with this team of ten 6 and 7 year old boys. It has been so rewarding being a part of this team and seeing the kids thrive.

Now for Jayden, the transition into basketball was not always easy. And there were definitely some days, especially at the beginning where I wondered whether I had done the right thing by ‘encouraging’ him to play basketball. There were so many new challenges to adjust to.

  • The noise was a lot to take in
  • There were people everywhere as the stadium has ten different courts with games going on one after the other
  • There were sirens at the start, half time and end of each game
  • There were umpires on each court blowing whistles
  • And there were all the other noises that we don’t even think about:
    • Runnings scratching on the floor
    • Drink bottles banging on the seats as players rushed back onto court
    • People opening and shutting court doors
    • The coffee machine at the kiosk

And this is just to name a few…

Then there were all the rules! Luckily for Under 8s the rules are very relaxed, and the umpires were so patient with the children explaining the rules throughout the game. They even got to shoot foul shots at half time, so every child had an opportunity to put a score on the board.

However, for many weeks Jayden just ran up and down the court following his team mates. He was too scared to ‘get into the game’ because of the fear of doing the wrong thing, the fear of it being too crowded, the fear of people being in his space or him being in others’ space. Which meant for weeks, I sat on the sidelines with tears in my eyes. Wondering what others were thinking, what he was thinking and again wondering if I had done the right thing. Jayden’s teammates loved having him in the team, but they didn’t pass the ball to him sometimes because he wasn’t ‘in the game’.  The team is fortunate to have some strong players, so these players were given the ball instead.

One week after a game, Jayden was in the car, and he cried and said “I am so stupid… No-one passes me the ball”. And in that moment, we both just sat in the car and cried. I was so very proud of him for recognising and talking about how he was feeling but then at the same time, I was so sad that he was feeling that way. As a mother, I will always have my children’s back, and this was no different, so I sent a message to all the families in our beautiful team to address some of my concerns.

  • I firstly acknowledged that I thought we were a wonderful team with beautiful supportive families
  • I also acknowledged that Jayden was not at the same playing standard as the other boys, but that was ok, not everyone is a natural player
  • I explained that for us, Jayden joining the team and playing a team sport was about being included as part of a team
  • Being included meant getting the ball sometimes, and being included in the play – which also required Jayden to put himself in the game too

The love and support I received back from the team was amazing. What I learnt from the team was that players are valued in a team for all different reasons. Some for their skills and ability and for Jayden, it was for the enthusiasm he brought to the team. The other parents also made me realise that Jayden does love basketball in his own way, as he was always smiling, always keeps trying and even dances with his little hip wiggles as he waits in defence.

This whole experience has taught me that ‘inclusion in sports’ is tough. For the child playing the sport, for the other teammates, for the spectators and for the umpires. But together, with a bit of awareness and kindness we can use sports to teach our children some really important life lessons

  • It’s important to go outside your comfort zone and try new things
  • New things can be scary but can also surprise you with some fun
  • Inclusion looks different for everyone, but to include doesn’t just mean letting someone in the team, it means allowing them to feel included in the team
  • Winning is not everything (although important to try!) and we need to be humble no matter the outcome is
  • Passing, sharing and including everyone in the team is important
  • Learning new skills from the coaches, teammates and practice

This is why Spectrum Group has decided to be a sponsor of Altona Sports Centre, so we can continue to encourage inclusion in sports for all and we can be a small part of educating awareness.

I continue to learn so much from Jayden, and I am so grateful for all the ways he opens my eyes to see things in a different light.

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