Many of us enjoyed tuning into the coverage of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games this summer. The highlights included Dame Sarah Storey’s 17th gold medal in eight Paralympic games, making her the most decorated British Paralympian ever; David Smith defending his Boccia title and bearing the GB flag for the closing ceremony; Ellie Robinson’s moving post-race interview after the S6 butterfly event; and cheering George Peasgood onto the podium not only in triathlon but cycling too.
For TASS, it was wonderful to see 52 of our former athletes head to the Games and bring home a total of 34 medals, including 8 golds.
Whilst seeing top level performances on the world stage is worth celebrating, support services for athletic development is only part of the support required. The education, career development, and wellbeing of these athletes are equally important. With many Paralympic athletes now considering their options after the Games, these topics are of vital importance. In response, TASS conducted research , with the aim of understanding what organisations can do better to support para-athletes in higher education in the UK. The research is targeted at stakeholders, such as National Governing Bodies (NGBs) of sport, universities, BUCS (British Universities and Colleges Sport) (and TASS. The research identified some of the great work being done in this area by theabove organisations, with para-athletes attributing their success to the support they received:
“I had no idea that the uni that's 25-minute drive from my flat could help me get better in my sport. It's with their support… that I got to Rio”
and reports from staff that highlighted the unconventional route into elite sport that can occur in higher education: “We ran an inclusive climbing session, and we've had a student coming in who was classifiable for climbing… she started coming to the sessions regularly. She's been selected for part of the GB para climbing team, so really excelled.”
Despite examples of best practice, challenges were also discussed in the report. There are limited numbers of disabled people participating in para sport in general, which leads to an even smaller number of para-athletes in higher education. Combined with this, there has historically been limited investment in para-sport at the higher education level and limited competitive opportunities. These challenges are not ones that can be addressed by any one organisation, rather, it needs to be a collaborative effort from all stakeholders to drive positive change.
The report presents some recommendations to address these issues such as:
· Upskilling coaches, practitioners, and university staff through the inclusion of disability training/education in coaching courses and practitioner qualifications
· Establishing para-sport specific roles within NGBs and university sport
· Promoting disability sport participation and competition within sport and university environments, and
· Utilising talent identification and sport development opportunities within higher education.
At TASS, we recognise that the stakeholders themselves are best placed to decide how to bring about positive change within the area. Therefore, the main intention for the document is to initiate discussion on enhancing support for current and prospective para- athletes within higher education.
For more information the full report can be found at: https://www.tass.gov.uk/resource/developing-the-para-dual-career-athlete-landscape-recommendations-for-organisations/