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PHYSICAL DISABILITY

What is physical disability?

Physical disability is a broad term that can include any condition that has a lifelong impact on a person’s ability to move or control their body movements. Young people with physical disability may need support to complete everyday tasks and participate in activities.
There are many different types and causes of physical disability. Physical disability can include:

  • Paralysis (eg. inability to move one or more limbs)
  • Low or high muscle tone
  • Reduced balance or steadiness
  • Reduced gross motor control (eg. challenges with walking, running)
  • Reduced fine motor control (eg. challenges with writing, doing up shoelaces)

Common causes of physical disability include acquired brain injury (eg. after a stroke), spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, loss of limbs and muscular dystrophy.
By providing a safe and supportive environment, you can help keep young people with physical disability engaged and safe. With a little planning, you can ensure they have enriching opportunities to make friends, learn new skills and participate in the footy fun.

What might this look like on the footy field?

Players with physical disability will differ in the type and severity of their movement challenges. Some young people might walk independently but might need support with balance and coordination, making it difficult to run or complete multiple movements at once (eg. coordinating handballing while running, or kicking the footy on the run).
They may require more time to complete tasks that involve running or physical activity, and they may benefit from extra practise to learn new skills.
Some players with physical disability will use mobility aids, such as ankle or leg supports, crutches, walking frames, or wheelchairs. Think about whether the footy field is accessible and suitable for these players.

Strategies and tips

Before the session

  • If unsure, ask: If you’re not sure how to modify an activity for a player, ask them for the best way for them to be successful. All young people have their own unique strengths and abilities. Focus on what they can do, not what they can’t.
  • Let parents or siblings help: Parents and siblings know the young person best and might encourage them to be more involved and feel safe at play. Ask the player if they would like a parent or sibling to help. Some players (eg. young players) might be okay with this, but others (eg. older players) might not.

During the session

  • Change the activity, not the young person: If an activity seems difficult, don’t attribute the problem to the player, instead, attribute it to the strategy. For example, you could say, ‘Looks like this activity might be difficult. I think we chose the wrong size target, let’s try it with a larger target’.
  • Allow alternate ways to play: If a player needs support to kick a drop punt, you could allow them to kick the ball off the ground, or practise kicking it off a stand.
  • Change the rules so everyone can play: Make changes to the rules where appropriate so everyone can play. For example, a handball could be equivalent to a kick and an underarm throw could be equivalent to a handball.
  • Offer all roles: There are many roles on the footy field. Young people can do other roles if they don’t want to join the game as a player, like throw the ball back in or umpire.
  • Allow more time to learn skills: Some players with physical disability may need more time and practise to learn to kick, catch or run.
  • Make eye contact at the young person's level: Think about how to have good eye contact with players who may sit at a lower height. For example, if a player uses a wheelchair, you could kneel down or sit on a bench.

After the session

  • Check in with the young person and their family: A discreet and brief chat post session with a young person with physical disability and their family can help identify what activities they enjoyed, and whether some activities can be further modified for next time.

Things to consider

Sometimes, people might assume that young people with physical disability need support with thinking and understanding. This is often not the case and should not be assumed. Coaches should speak with a young person’s parents if they are unsure about how much of what they say is being understood.

Recommended reading

If you are coaching a young person with physical disability, you may also be interested in reading about:

Endurance >

Social skills >

Safety >

Motor skills >

Communication >

Additional resources

Footy stories. Footy stories are a great way to assist young people with anxiety to become familiar with the wonderful world of footy. You can find all of our footy stories on the Parent Information Page.
Further training. If you would like further information and resources, you can visit play.afl/coach/ You can also learn more about how to be an inclusive coach by completing the AllPlay Footy Online Coaching Modules in Inclusion. This course provides you with tools and resources for creating inclusive environments at footy.

AllPlay Footy is a joint initiative by Monash University and the AFL. AllPlay Footy was founded at Deakin University in 2015 and has been part of Monash Education since 2021. The AllPlay Footy content and resources presented here have been developed with people with lived experience of disability, consultants from National Sporting Organisations for People with Disability, psychologists and researchers, and are brought to you with funding from a Department of Social Services Information, Linkages and Capacity Building: Social and Community Participation Stream (2020-2021) grant. We aim to use language that is respectful to everyone.

TYPES OF DISABILITIES

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