SA Paris Paralympics debutant calls for better training for sports trainers and coaches

Apr 12, 2024

A South Australian elite para triathlete expected to make her Paralympic debut in Paris later this year is calling on all sports trainers, coaches, first aiders and sports administrators across Australia to receive training in how to better support athletes with a disability. 

Adelaide native Anu Francis, 28, knows from experience that para-athletes face many unnecessary barriers to participation and says training for coaches and first aiders would help athletes with a disability overcome many of those barriers. 

Ms Francis attended an online 90-minute Sports Medicine Australia course as the program was being developed last year in partnership with Sport NSW.  

Sports Medicine Australia is a not-for-profit, member-based educational organisation. 

Now that the course, Considerations for Athletes with a Disability, is available nationally, Anu wants as many sports professionals as possible to take the $40 course. 

“It will make a huge difference for people with a disability who want to take part in sport to have support from professionals who have the knowledge and techniques provided by this course,” she said. 

“As someone with multiple disabilities who has spent a lot of time training and travelling with other athletes with a large variety of disabilities, I saw early on that most coaches, support staff, and event organisers had little or no training about how to work with para-athletes.  

“This means there is often more responsibility on athletes to educate their team about their needs to make training, travel and racing accessible and safe for them. 

“The SMA course cuts through all that and makes it easier for everyone, not just the athletes,” she said.  

Sports Medicine Australia CEO Jamie Crain said: 

“We want to ensure that we maximise participation and inclusiveness in sport for everyone with a disability.” 

“We are extremely pleased with the outcomes of this course and its potential positive impact within the community.  

“For Sports Medicine Australia this is just the start. We are already investigating other educational programs to roll out for our multidisciplinary membership that would provide professionals with the clinical tools they need to better serve patients and sporting teams.  

Ms Francis said: “It (the course) is full of practical considerations that can be taken into account and modified to suit individual athletes’ particular needs.” 

She said that coaches and trainers who have completed the course would have the knowledge needed to help avert or manage some of the situations she has encountered during her sporting career, such as buses at an international para-triathlon race that were not wheelchair accessible and swim positions that are not safe for some athletes. 

“While these situations are not controlled by coaches and support staff, it is vital that athletes and their team are able to identify early when an athlete may need modifications. 

“Knowing what those modifications or assistance would look like ahead of time, would reduce stress and injury risk,” she said. 

Anu lives with dopa-responsive dystonia (a one-in-a-million degenerative neurological condition), Ehlers Danlos syndrome (a degenerative connective tissue disorder), auditory processing disorder, and autism. 

Project lead for the course’s development Mitch Jarvis of Sports Medicine Australia said the course fills a massive need for athletes with a disability. 

More than 4.4 million Australians have a disability. Individuals face several barriers that prevent them enjoying the benefits of sports participation, including improvements in physical and mental health. 

“Almost 120,000 South Australians live with a disability. 

“The workshop delivers an evidence-based and holistic approach, providing sports trainers and first aiders with a greater awareness of the barriers to participation for athletes with a disability, and how those barriers can be overcome for individual athletes with a wide range of needs. 

“The program also provides an overview of the broad considerations needed when working with an athlete with any form of disability and the needs for specific disability classifications.” 

The rollout follows a successful eight-week pilot program delivered to 150 people in metro and regional NSW in partnership with Sport NSW. 

The course can be delivered in face-to-face or via web-based workshops right across Australia. 

Course development was assisted by organisations including Special Olympics Australia, Blind Sports NSW, Gymnastics NSW, New South Wales Institute of Sport, Sport NSW and Sports Medicine Australia. 

SMA is a national not-for-profit, member-based educational organisation and the peak multidisciplinary body for sports medicine, sports science and physical activity in Australia. 

Barriers to participation for athletes with a disability 

While the benefits of sport are significant, there are many barriers to participation for those with a disability, such as: 

  • Insufficient skills/training for coaches, staff and volunteers on how to engage and modify programs to suit specific needs  
  • A lack of choice in sporting activities 
  • Lack of appropriate adapted facilities 
  • Low accessibility to disabled parking/amenities 
  • Cost (transport, fees, support personnel)  
  • Low levels of motivation and fear of being judged 

What the program delivers to participants  

  • Benefits of sports participation and strategies on lowering of barriers 
  • Classification of disabilities 
  • Universal considerations 
  • Disability specific considerations 
  • An athlete’s perspective 
  • Resources for continued education 

Media contact: Seamus Bradley | [email protected] | 0410 256 902 

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