Engaging Special-Needs Kids in Athletics - by Wiley Humphrey

From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
"Helping coaches coach better..."

Wiley Humphrey works as a technical writer focused on generating interesting athletic and academic content. He has substantial experience in writing about leadership, training trends, interscholastic athletics research, athletic equipment, and game-changing athletes. As a veteran swimmer and waterpolo player in Florida, Wiley appreciates the subjective and objective athletic perspectives. His goal is to bring academics, athletics, research, and fun strategies to coaches.

Wiley Humphrey
Wiley Humphrey

Investing in their interest is beneficial for them and possibly for professional sports

Professional sports aren't attracting the America's attention like they once were. Younger generations are showing a lack of interest for a myriad of reasons - other interests, professional drama and hypocrisy, advertisement oversaturation, controversy, cheating, etc.

No, professional sports aren't going anywhere anytime soon as they are still loved by many Americans. Plus, they are heavily invested in by both the private and public, so no one wants to see their demise. Although the end of professional sports is still probably far off, their relevance has declined and projected to decline further.

For example, only 20% of 18-29 year-olds follow the MLB. Between expensive tickets and cable provider disputes, games can be difficult to view. In a world where ease of accessibility is king, anything that is difficult to view will be overlooked for easier options. Granted, the MLB is looking to technology to save increase fandom, but more can be done.

The NFL is also experiencing fanbase issues and they are barely holding the majority in some cases. 54% of high schoolers and younger are interested in the NFL according to a recent Gallup poll, which isn't enough for America's popular pastime. The percentages are down for every age range, but the lower they are for younger generations means a lack of future support.

So how do organizations like the MLB and NFL improve their projected relevance? They can increase awareness by calling for parents, coaches, and administrative staff to engage young special-needs kids in athletics. It benefits the professional sports fanbase and, more importantly, the kids.

special needs

Special-Needs Kids Can Participate in More Activities Today

There are at least 6.5 million children between 3-21 years old that are living with special-needs. Whether it is autism, Down's syndrome, or other physical/mental complications, these children need special accommodations in order to be comfortable and live a healthy life.

Fortunately, America has seen a surge in awareness, treatment, and technology that allow special-needs kids to pursue an independent and fulfilling life. Mobility tech can assist with swinging a bat and throwing a ball, and visual tech like VR can put kids right on the field with professional athletes.

If the NFL and MLB want to flex their social responsibility muscle, improve their fanbase, and enhance kids' lives, then reaching out to parents and youth coaches would be the answer. By providing incentive and resources, those working with special-needs kids can further involve them in fun activities and expose them to the exciting world of "cheering for your team".

It's important to note there is consideration for special-needs families, and that these organizations do their part to donate and raise awareness for them. This solution to improving their fanbase would require them to delve further, investing more into special-needs.

How to Engage Special-Needs Kids in Sports Safely

Improving their standing with younger and special-needs generations doesn't have to be a selfish act. It's mutually beneficial to the organization, the kids, and those working with special-needs. By providing up-to-date resources, funding, and equipment in return for active participation and support is a win-win. Because their perception or ability in the world requires a different approach, engaging kids in athletics needs to have additional consideration.

To start, helping parents safely and comfortably integrate their kids into athletics without it being a traumatizing experience:

Follow the kid's lead

Listen to them and their preferences. Try a few different sports until one feels like the right fit for them. It may take some time depending on their social and physical capabilities but nurture the attempts without pushing too hard.

Celebrate success

Progress is the true victory, not winning or losing. When supporting your kid in athletics, build off their improvement and not on winning. The same goes for when viewing professional sports - teach them to notice when teams or players are improving. Draw correlations between improvement and winning so they are inspired to do the same.

Participate daily

Play, discuss, watch, and get passionate about the sport they are playing. It's not just mentally/physically beneficial for them to play, but a bonding opportunity for the whole family. Making memories while watching football, or the excitement of cheering for your favorite baseball player are the real benefit to sports.