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Tips for Including Athletes with Disabilities

Published August 13, 2014

By Aaron Moffett
California State University, San Bernardino

Johnny is 13 years old and wants to join your swim team. He has been a recreational swimmer for a couple of years but never really competed. Johnny also has an above knee amputation and cannot wear his prosthetic leg in the water. Kicking is a vital skill in swimming but he does not kick like your other swimmers. You are excited about having him on your team but you are not quite sure how to include him so that the other swimmers, Johnny, and you can all benefit from his participation.

More and more people with disabilities are joining sports programs but coaches are struggling with how to successfully include athletes with disabilities. You want to do the right thing. You also know that according to the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), Johnny and other people with disabilities have the right to participate on the team. Here are some simple ways to include people with disabilities on your team.

  • Embrace the opportunity. The team takes direction from the coach. If coaches see including people with disabilities on their teams as beneficial and increasing diversity, than the team will also benefit and gain new experiences. Coaches should also focus on the positives about inclusion instead of worrying about ways that the athlete will hurt the team. Many of the techniques for inclusion can help all athletes. For instance, deaf athletes may want the drills for the day written on a board. This can help you so that you don’t have to tell your athletes 100 times what they are supposed to do.
  • Treat the athlete as an athlete. Focus on the person instead of the disability. Athletes with a disability want to participate in sports for the same reason as your other athletes. You can sit down with your athletes to determine their goals for participation, what they want to learn, and strategies for achieving goals. This will demonstrate that you want them all to improve.
  • Provide opportunities for the athlete to be a leader. As you do with your other athletes, coaches should also provide opportunities for the athlete with a disability to be a successful leader. All athletes including those with disabilities can choose one of the drills to do, select the relay team, or lead the cheers to demonstrate their leadership skills. This will demonstrate to your team that you have confidence in the athlete’s leadership skills and also show that all athletes are integral members of the team.
  • Collaborate with the athlete to modify sport techniques. Coaches have to adapt drills and activities all the time for athletes whom don’t understand the drill, cannot do it correctly, or have to do it differently because of a temporary injury. Generally, coaches are very creative in coming up with new ideas and they can do this to help the athlete with a disability succeed. It is also okay to ask the athlete the best ways for him/her to be successful. For instance, since Johnny has an amputation he may have to kick differently. He may have to learn how to kick the one leg closer to the middle of his body than the side of his body or kick a couple of times to the left and then a couple of times to the right.
  • Learn accommodations based on the rules of the sport governing body. Most sports have rules or accommodations that have been established for ways to successfully include people with disabilities. For instance in wheelchair tennis, the ball is allowed to bounce twice before the person has to hit the ball. If you are coaching a tennis team with a player who uses a wheelchair, you could allow them to let the ball hit the ground twice but the other players must hit the ball after just one bounce.
  • Have similar expectations. Athletes with disabilities want to be like the other members of the team and coaches should create realistic yet challenging expectations for all of his/her athletes. Coaches want their athletes to improve their skills and succeed and should give the athletes with disabilities the same amount of feedback as the other athletes. The coach should also expect that all members of the team be supportive of one another. There are more similarities among team members than differences. Thus, everyone should be expected to follow the same rules, guidelines, and policies.
  • Foster independence. Coaches should promote independence among his/her athletes as well. If you expect the rest of your players to pick up their equipment at the end of the day, you can foster independence by making sure the athlete with a disability also follows this same rule. The athlete may have to come up with creative ways or it may take them longer to complete the task, but the athlete should be working on independence and developing strategies so that they can complete their activities of daily living by themselves.
  • Seek advice. Along with seeking advice from the athlete, coaches can talk to other coaches, teachers, or administrators who have experience in working with athletes with disabilities. There are many coach-related chat forums on the internet and a coach can seek answers among his/her peers. Another great resource is the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability []. They have numerous articles and brochures about techniques for inclusion for various sports.

Coaches are required to provide reasonable accommodations for athletes with disabilities but many coaches struggle with ways to successfully include these athletes. For the most part, having the right attitude and a willingness to try is the key ingredient. If you are willing to try these other steps, than you will develop an environment where people recognize everyone’s abilities versus disabilities!

Adapted Swim Committee (2001). Including swimmers with a disability: A guide for coaches. Retrieved on November 1, 2007, from

Other resources:
National Center on Physical Activity and Disability (

Aaron Moffett, PhD
California State University, San Bernardino

Published in: Coaches

Keeping Your Cool While Public Speaking

Published August 13, 2014

By Nicki Moore
University of Oklahoma

I am surprised at the number of coaches, particularly assistant coaches, who are significantly impaired in their job responsibilities by their fear of public speaking. While most are able to “pull it off” without embarrassment, the pre-performance experience can be distracting and uncomfortable. Thus, some tips are offered below to help keep your nerves in check.

  1. Trust your training! Prepare for your speaking engagement. Even if it is a media session when you are unsure of what questions will be asked, you can always revert back to your coaching principles or a good coaching story. Be sure you have clearly outlined your principles of coaching, and that you can remember them easily. Once you have prepared, know that you have all you need to succeed, and let go of the fear.
  2. Realize you are NOT on trial! Rarely does someone intend to put you in a bind. More often, people want to be informed, entertained, or inspired. Do your best to figure out which of those things is your aim, and take a path to achieve it.
  3. Take a deep breath – several times… even during your talk.
  4. Slow down. If you find that your voice is getting more and more strained as you talk, you are probably not fully exhaling. Thus, shift your note cards and simply breathe. Exhale completely, take a normal breath and continue.
  5. Another tact is to give the audience time to ask questions. Instead of saying, “do you have any questions?” say, “What questions do you have?” and then pause (good time to breathe). This also puts the onus on them to engage in the interaction.
  6. Remember you probably know more about your topic than anyone else in the room! If you didn’t someone else would be speaking! You are the expert! However, there is no such thing as an all-knowing expert! Thus, if you know the answer, be straightforward and give it to them. If you don’t know an answer, say, “good question – I will research that a little and get back with you. Would you please give me your e-mail address when we are finished so I can follow up?” This builds credibility and integrity – especially when you actually respond.
  7. Tell stories. Feel free to tell a story or two to illustrate a point if it comes to you. People like stories – they can help paint a picture for someone who otherwise might miss an important point.
  8. Be human. Humans make mistakes and that is okay. Don’t dwell on your blunder, just move on and focus on the next part of your talk. The less you draw attention to a mistake, the less others will notice. Alternatively, if it offers a chance to infuse humor into your talk, take it!

Nicki Moore, PhD
University of Oklahoma

(405) 325-3138

Published in: Coaches, Performance Psychology

The Good Coach: From Beginner to Expert

Published August 13, 2014

By Kristen Dieffenbach
West Virginia University

We live in a culture of now. More and more things are available at our fingertips instantly. We often expect amazing results after just a few weeks of effort. This quest for quick upgrades is on par with the rest of our speeding culture. Even coaches can fall into the trap of getting frustrated when performance change doesn’t happen quick enough. However, in the world of sport it is important to remember that great performances, or becoming an expert player, require a combination of effort, time and patience. And great coaches and coaching expertise, require the same things.

So what is expertise and how does one get it? Expertise describes a proficiency created through a combination of learned knowledge and practical experience. In coaching, like in any area of knowledge, developing expertise requires time, experience, diligence, and a desire to continue to grow and learn. Ideally, true expertise should be viewed as the lifelong journey of the intentional learner. It should not be viewed an end point or something to be achieved and rested upon. Certifications and degrees are only steps along the way.

The 4 stages in developing expertise, beginning, competent, proficient and expert, were described by researchers Dreyfus and Dreyfus. Everyone starts at the first stage, as a ‘beginner’ in the field. During this stage it is important to identify key areas of emphasis and to determine ways to learn more. Although progress through the stages is very based on the individual, Dr. Herbert Simon, a researcher who spent much of his career exploring expertise, has stated that it takes 10 years of purposeful practice and experiences beyond basic knowledge (the beginning stage) to develop expertise.

How do you know when you have become an expert? In the Practices of Expert Teachers Paul Schempp, Steven Tan, and Bryan McCullick (2002) explain that unique characteristics of expert teachers. In coaching terms these characteristics include a great depth of knowledge in the sciences of coaching and approaching new situations with an understanding and respect for the uniqueness of each athlete instead of a one size fits all response. Additionally, when compared with novices, experts have been found to have better short term memories, be more skilled at self monitoring, and are continual learners.

Expertise is often confused with personal achievement. Often people falsely assume that elite achievement as an athlete automatically translates into expert knowledge. It is important to keep in mind that expertise is the combination of knowledge and knowing what to do with that knowledge. Recently, Alan Castel and his colleagues (2006) explored the ‘dark side’ of expertise. They found that ‘doing’ knowledge often did not translate into the ability to teach or pass on information effectively to other people. Individuals who were successful on a high level typically had automated their skills to such a level that they lost touch with how they learned those skills or the process of building those skills. Their work highlights the importance of understanding not only what needs to be done but also the why’s and how’s for the achievement of true expertise. For coaches, this highlights the importance of learned knowledge and the value of coaching science understanding in addition to valuable practical riding experiences.

Here are a few key ideas to help coaches develop their expertise in their sport. The intentional guided development of personal expertise in coaching not only enhances the work that you do; it also enhances the profession of coaching and raises the bar for others to follow.

  • Start with 15 minutes a day – Set aside a small period of time daily or weekly for learning something new.
  • Soak it up – Attend conferences, meetings, classes and workshops whenever possible. Look for things both directly related to what you do and things just outside your comfort zone. There is something to be learned in everything.
  • Subscribe & Read– Keep up to date with articles, books, and other publications that explain and explore new science related findings that pertain to the art and skill of coaching, the coaching sciences, and, more specifically, to your sport.
  • Seek it out – Don’t wait for new ideas to trickle down to you. Actively look for new information
  • Listen – Listen carefully to the explanations, theories and ideas of others. Seek new perspectives and new ways to see things. You do not have to agree with everything you hear, but you never know what you might learn.
  • Avoid getting in a rut – Don’t just read the same magazine or the same website. Read multiple theories and different opinions. Strive for variety and change.
  • Embrace a mentor – Both new and experienced coaches can benefit from mentor relationships. They help new coaches pull together learned knowledge and experiences and for the more experienced coaches, mentorship is a great way to stay current with the art and science of coaching.
  • Network – Build a network both in and outside of coaching. Build relationships with people from various fields. A peer group can provide camaraderie, a sounding board, new perspectives, and problem solving assistance.
  • When in doubt, ask – Too often it is falsely assumed that being an expert means never having a question. No matter how much you know or how long you have been coaching, there will always be new information and new situations. Questions are valuable learning tools that never go out of style.
  • Be flexible – As you learn, be flexible with your ideas and the ways you do things. Don’t be afraid to try new things and to evolve over time.
  • Evaluate and learn – take time to review not only the success of the training plans you write, but also regularly review the effectiveness of your approach to coaching and your coaching bedside manner. Coaching knowledge does not translate into true expertise unless you are able to effectively share that knowledge.

Castel, A.D., McCabe, D.P., Roediger, H.L. & Heitman, J. L. (in press). The dark side of expertise: Domain-specific memory errors. Psychological Science.

Dreyfus, H.L. & Dreyfus, S.E. (1987). The mistaken psychological assumptions underlying belief in expert systems. In A. Costall & A. Still (Eds.), Cognitive psychology in question (pp. 17-31). New York, NY: US: St Martin's Press, 
Schempp, P. G., Tan, S. K. S., & McCullick, B. A. (2002). The practices of expert teachers. Teaching and Learning, 23, 99-106.

Published in: Coaches

Coaching Through Conflict: Effective Communication Strategies

Published August 13, 2014

By Ryan Hedstrom
Manchester College

Sport is full of conflict! Whether it is on or off the playing field, effectively dealing with conflict goes a long way in determining success. Internal team conflict can have a major impact on team dynamics and cohesion. As a coach, learning how to deal with these conflicts can become a major part of your everyday job. Unfortunately, we often deal with conflict in unproductive ways such as avoiding (“It’s not a big problem, why worry?”), forcing (“I will win this argument no matter what”), or accommodating (“I’ll give up whatever it takes to end the conflict”).

One of the ways you can help alleviate team conflict is to learn and use effective mediation strategies. As a coach, you are in a powerful position to display positive conflict management in the way you communicate with athletes, parents, referees, and the media. There are four principles to keep in mind when trying to resolve conflict:

  1. Active Listening. Displaying a willingness to listen can help alleviate conflict.
    • Encourage the speaker by asking questions and showing interest.
    • Validate the speaker. You can still show interest in the person while not necessarily agreeing with her/his point of view.
    • Restate the speaker’s message by paraphrasing main points.
    • Center the conflict by trying to find the key points of the message.
  2. Non-verbal Communication. A cold shoulder, eye roll, or clenched jaw can go a long way in communicating a point without even saying a word. In fact, 70% of our communication is non-verbal in nature. Be open and consistent in your body language, helping to defuse emotion.
  3. Using “I” Statements. This is centered in the belief that if the speaker takes responsibility for her/his statements others will be less likely to simply react and put up a defense. When comparing the following statements, the first puts the receiver of that message on the defensive due to the blaming and accusing nature of the statement and the second shows the speaker taking ownership.
    • “You hurt the team when you don’t show up to conditioning on time”
    • “I am frustrated when you don’t show up to conditioning on time”
  4. Avoiding Common Communication Obstacles. It is easy to fall into several traps when dealing with conflict. Some common obstacles that get in the way of effective mediation are:
    • Advising…    “Well, I’ll tell you what I’d do…”
    • Diagnosing…    “Your problem is that you…”
    • Discounting…    “Cheer up, it’ll work out…”
    • Lecturing…    “How many times do I have to tell you…”
    • Threatening…    “This is the last time I will…”
    • Preaching…    “You ought to know better than to…”

Along with the above communication strategies, there are several do’s and don’ts involved in managing conflict:


  1. Convey the value of your relationship with the person.
  2. Go slowly with what you want to communicate.
  3. Try to understand the other person’s position.
  4. Listen to what the other person is trying to communicate.
  5. Confront the situation, not the person.


  1. Communicate the solution; it is better to focus on the problem.
  2. Stop communicating.
  3. Use put-downs or sarcasm.
  4. Rely on nonverbal hints to communicate, be direct and forthcoming.
  5. Discuss the problem with others not associated with the conflict.

Whether it is conflict over playing time, personality clashes, or negative emotions from defeat, conflict can greatly damage team chemistry. As a coach, you have responsibility to identify, manage, and defuse conflict. By understanding effective communication strategies you can better manage conflict within your team.

This article is adapted from Hedstrom, R.A., & Lauer, L. (2006). Resolving Conflict: Effective mediation tools for coaches. Adult learning module for the MHSAA coaching advancement program. East Lansing, MI: MHSAA.

References and Suggested Resources:
Gross, B., & Zimmerman, G. (1997). Mediating interpersonal conflict. North Manchester, IN: Education for Conflict Resolution.
Fisher, R., & Ury, W. (1991). Getting to yes. New York: Penguin Books.
Toropov, B. (1997). The art and skill of dealing with people. Paramus, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Published in: Coaches

Making Your Team Work: How Coaches Can Transform Groups into Teams

Published August 13, 2014

By Ryan Hedstrom
Manchester College

Whether it is on the field or in the locker room, effective coaches need to understand the strategies to turn a group of individuals into a cohesive and successful team. Not all groups of individuals are teams. Successful teams have distinct characteristics such as shared leadership, fluid responsibility, accountability to the group, and shared goals (Lussier& Kimball, 2009). To understand this sense of shared vision and teamwork, one only needs to look to the sky. As geese fly south for the winter, they fly in a distinctive “V” formation. This yearly task is the epitome of teamwork:

  • Flying in this formation increases the flying range compared to flying individually. What’s the lesson?..working together towards a common goal helps the entire team finish more efficiently.
  • Falling out of the formation causes the birds to feel sudden resistance. As a team, they continually adjust to keep initial formation. What’s the lesson?..there is power in those who travel together.
  • When a bird becomes tired, s/he rotates to the back of the formation. What’s the lesson?...everyone must take turns doing the difficult jobs.
  • Birds at the back of the formation continually honk in order to encourage the front. What’s the lesson?...effective teams provide constant encouragement to its members. (Lussier& Kimball, 2009)

So what makes an effective team? There are several characteristics that determine team success, outlined by Yukl (2006).

  1. Commitment to Shared Objectives. All team members must agree on what the team is trying to accomplish. Teams work much harder if members have a say in team goals and focus. Having team members discuss and decide on team goals would foster this sense of team commitment.
  2. Accurate, Shared Mental Models. As a coach, one of the ways that teams can work effectively is have a shared sense of what is to come (a mental model). Understanding, as a group, what to expect and how the team can respond develops this sense of teamwork. Coaches can foster this mental modeling by practicing different competition scenarios, discussing logistics of an event, and providing as much accurate information about upcoming opponents as possible. Through this preparation the team develops this shared mental model
  3. Role Clarity and Acceptance. All team members must understand that they have a role on the team. At times it may seem insignificant and can be hard to accept, but everyone must know their role is vitally important to team success. Coaches can promote this team characteristic by stressing the importance of each athlete to the team. Team members need to see how their actions genuinely affect the team’s objectives. Teammates also need to show that each member’s contribution is important
  4. Mutual Trust and Cooperation. Each team member must trust and cooperate with the team as a whole. While this is an obvious ingredient to team success, it is also a very difficult one to cultivate. Coaches need to stress trust and cooperation from the very start of the season. Whether it is through team-building activities (such as ropes courses or challenge games) or shared experiences (both social and sport-related) the team must have a solid foundation of trust and cooperation.
  5. Collective Potency. Call it the swagger, confidence, or belief…teams must believe they are capable of team success. This sense of confidence translates into a belief of team effectiveness. All of the above mentioned team characteristics play into this belief of potency. Teams that know what is to be accomplished and can cooperate in order to get there have a sincere belief in team effectiveness. Coaches can impact this sense of collective potency by staying positive and focusing on team success. Coaches need to remember that the mood and confidence of the leader has a major impact on the collective mood and confidence of the team.

Effective coaches know that turning a group of individuals into an effective team takes a keen understanding of team characteristics. By incorporating the above team characteristics into coaching strategies, coaches will help guide individual players into adopting a team vision and commitment. Just like the geese that work together every year to accomplish a monumental task, effective teams develop a shared sense of responsibility and accountability that maximizes success.


Lussier, R.N.,& Kimball, D.C. (2009). Applied sport management skills. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Yukl, G. (2006). Leadership in organizations (6th ed.). Upper Saddle, NJ: Pearson Education.

Published in: Coaches