Disability judo – the benefits of engaging young people in sport

Dermot Heslop from the British Judo Association coaches judo at our specialist college in Harrogate thanks to funding from the 2020 Vision Project, in conjunction with Sport England. We spoke to him to find out how a few simple adaptations can make judo accessible for disabled young people, and why participation in sport has such an impact on their health and wellbeing.

Judo: our students’ first experience of a physical contact sport

Last term eight of our specialist college students celebrated achieving their 6th Kyu Red Belts in judo. This first stepping stone is a major achievement for each of the students involved because they have a range of disabilities and learning difficulties.

Our students worked for six months to reach this level. As a result they gained self-awareness and self-confidence through their first experience of a physical contact sport.

Students from Henshaws Specialist College receiving their red belts in judo

Engaging disabled people with the sport sector

National funding for these judo sessions was originally provided so British Judo could find the Paralympic stars of the future. While this is still one of their aims, the national governing body for judo in the UK now realise that the benefits for disabled people participating extend so much further.

Dermot Heslop, from the British Judo Association explains. “Our goals are changing to be more in line with the overall Sport England Strategy. For Henshaws students and thousands of others taking part, it’s about tapping into the way that judo can build self-esteem, develop confidence, and increase feelings of being part of something. We want as many young people to be able to experience that as possible. This is the case whether they have dreams of making the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic games or not.”

Sport England: Towards an active nation outlines 5 key benefits that sport can bring to people and to society:

  • Physical wellbeing
  • Mental wellbeing
  • Individual development
  • Social and community development
  • Economic development
Thumbs up from our students during their disability judo session

We want everyone in England regardless of age, background or level of ability to feel able to engage in sport and physical activity. Some will be young, fit and talented, but most will not. We need a sport sector that welcomes everyone – meets their needs, treats them as individuals and values them as customers.”

Sport England, Towards an Active Nation, 2016

sport england logo

Focusing on individual achievement and participation

It’s clear that our college students are already experiencing many of these key benefits through taking part in the judo sessions. Vicky Little is a Henshaws instructor who has been working with the judo group alongside Dermot each week. She said “For many of our students, when they first started the judo sessions it was a challenge even feeling comfortable enough to take their shoes off and work close to other students. The goal of achieving the red belt has given them something to work towards each week. Their increase in confidence throughout the course has been amazing.”

Dermot focused on what each student could do throughout the coaching sessions. “We’ve learnt what works for each individual and have adapted techniques if necessary to meet their needs. This often involves working from the ground upwards. For example, students have learnt to throw from the knees first, instead of from a standing position. All the students should be very proud of what they’ve achieved in gaining their first belt!”

Dermot’s 5 key tips for coaching disabled judo sessions

  1. Learn what works for each individual
  2. Adapt techniques to meet their needs
  3. Work from the ground upwards
  4. Build up the level of contact gradually
  5. Keep it fun and motivational
Warming up ready for the disability judo session

Get involved

British Judo have a page dedicated to special needs and disability judo on their website, or you can use their Club Finder to find out how to get involved with your local club. If you’re interested in the coaching side, they also run regular workshops on coaching disabled players in sport. The next workshop is on 18th March 2017.

Our college students are now working towards their 5th Kyu yellow belts, which is the next stage in their judo journey. They’re aiming to achieve their new belts by June this year so keep an eye on our college pages for more information about how they’re getting on!

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