How to Teach Sports to Every Kid


Different Speeds and Different Needs: How to Teach Sports to Every Kid

Different Speeds and Different Needs: How to Teach Sports to Every Kid is a book about how to work with young athletes who have different challenges and needs related to disabilities. Author Gary Barber states that this book “aims to educate teachers, coaches and parents about the needs of those ‘different’ children who are seeking to find acceptance in sports, and in a broader context acceptance in life” (p. xiii).

Different Speeds and Different Needs: How to Teach Sports to Every Kid

Different Speeds and Different Needs: How to Teach Sports to Every Kid (Baltimore, Maryland: Paul Brookes Publishing Co., 2010).

Involvement in sports can be an empowering and enriching experience for all children, those with and without disabilities. K-12 teachers, coaches and parents of children with disabilities need to make sure that their schools’ sports programs fully include children with different needs and challenges. An experienced physical education teacher and coach with more than 30 years of experience in teaching students of all ages, abilities, and needs, Barber draws on current research and best practices in this comprehensive guide for establishing and sustaining inclusive sports programs that welcome students with a wide range of special needs.

Different Speeds and Different Needs is divided into two major sections. The first section is “Creating a Sports Environment in Which All Participants Can Thrive,” while the second section is “Understanding and Teaching Students with Differences.” This review briefly examines each of these sections.

A startling statistic

The five chapters in section one provide the foundation for considering sports for all children, not just the talented. A startling statistic presented in this section is that “56 percent of people with a disability do not participate in physical activities, compared with 36 percent without a disability” (from DHHS, 2000). This section covers the notion of inclusion and sports, the importance of play and sports in children’s development, and the development of friendships in sports that ultimately impact attitudes and participation for life in general.

The benefits of participation in sports by people with disabilities include a decrease in physical dependence, an improvement in attitudes about social inclusion and the development of fitness which can reduce the severity of many challenges. In recommending that schools create sports environments in educational and community settings where all children thrive, Barber focuses on techniques for assessing the emotional and social competence of children to assure that they are ready for sports. He also provides guidance for changing attitudes that inhibit participation or make a child feel excluded. Finally, Barber offers recommendations for promoting good sportsmanship to enhance the character development of all children.

Practical applications

Chapter Six on “Teaching and Coaching children with Different Athletic Abilities and Learning Needs” and Chapter Seven on “Effective Teaching Tips and Coaching Styles” begin the second section of this book. These chapters are pivotal to the nine chapters on specific disabilities that follow them. They relate the theoretical information in the first section of the book to its practical applications in the more lengthy second section.

Barber uses Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory to identify different ways that children learn sports and use various entry points (personal ways of participating or entering into an activity, discussion or play). For students with special needs in sports environments, Barber cautions: “The preservation of personal dignity is an important principle. … Placing children with special needs in a sports situation where they are clearly going to fail, where they will be overwhelmed and where they will possibly be humiliated is not social justice or equal opportunity” (p. 89). To combat this possibility, Barber recommends creating a culture of acceptance, accommodations within the sports environment and modifications (changing the activities in ways that the performance outcome is reduced). He provides an excellent “Differentiation Checklist” at the end of Chapter 6 that provides important evaluative questions about assessment, design, readiness, pace of learning, organization, choices and products for any sports activity intended for children with disabilities.

Chapter 7 addresses coaching from the perspective of providing feedback to student athletes with disability challenges. Barber recommends using specific feedback that is directed at something the athlete has the power to change. Additional techniques include using appropriate timing, simple instructions, and a kind and understanding tone. Finally, Barber suggests clearly outlining expectations, using a peer buddy system, following a routine, providing visual signals, giving a time line, and scheduling transitions for various aspects of physical skills.

Overcoming stereotypes

Barber concludes Chapter 7 with advice for what coaches can do when things don’t go well and finding the right coaching style. He notes that “coaches working with children who have various challenges have to overcome the stereotypes, the myths of incapability and the misinterpretations of these athletes’ motives for participation if they wish to effectively coach these children. Having low expectations for children with challenges has often been used as an excuse to deny them authentic opportunities” (p. 125). Positive expectations must not be fixed, and they should be based on discussions with both the students and parents as to what works best for the individual.

The remaining nine chapters in section two present detailed advice and vivid examples for how to design sports programs for young athletes with physical difficulties and coordination and mobility challenges; with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder; with Tourette syndrome; with autism spectrum disorders; with sensory impairments; with height and weight differences; with a vast range of intellectual abilities; with specific learning disabilities; and with anxiety, stress, and social confidence issues. A useful feature of this book is that each of these chapters concludes with a checklist of key points to remember when helping students who have these particular disabilities to enjoy sports.

The last chapter of Barber’s book is titled “Putting It All Together: Creating a Sporting Environment Where All Children Can Thrive.” He provides advice for developing a communications plan to help vulnerable children participate in sports. Additionally, Barber advises that parents advocate for their children with disabilities by becoming involved in community sports events, by joining support groups, by working with coaches and by talking to other parents.

Advice for kids

This positive and motivating book will help teachers, coaches and parents develop inclusive sports programs where all children can join in the fun. It is not surprising, then, that Barber’s final words of advice are addressed to children with challenges who might be questioning if they should even participate in sports (p. 223):

  • Find a coach who believes in you and wants to help you fulfill your athletic potential.
  • Don’t be deterred by your challenges—they may spur you to achieve great things.
  • Never let anyone or anything stop you from enjoying all the wonderful things that playing sports has to offer.

This book was reviewed by Dr. Henrietta Shirk, a professor in the Professional and Technical Communication Department at Montana Tech and a member of Apostrophe’s editorial board.

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