An exploration of the uptake and continued participation in sports in children and youth with physical disabilities


Participation in sport is a fundamental childhood experience that contributes to positive physical and psychosocial development. Children and youth with physical disabilities (CYPD) are no exception – families of CYPD are not only concerned with their child having the opportunity to participate in sport but also the quality of their child's sport experience. This presentation explores the challenges with the uptake and continued involvement in sport for CYPD. Findings from two separate studies will be discussed – a qualitative study focusing on the experiences of CYPD in grassroots sports programs and a cross-sectional study involving athletes' recall of their sport trajectory from grassroots to elite-level parasports. CYPD and their parents, coaches, and therapeutic recreation therapists identify a quality coaching experience in grassroots sport programs for CYPD to consist of four key elements: connecting with families, empowering CYPD through leadership and skill development, supporting children's autonomy, and providing adaptive and flexible coaching methods. Most (77%) of the parasport athletes who recalled their transition into parasport reported to be competing in the same sport that they were first introduced to during their childhood (congenital disability) or post-injury (acquired disability). Health care professionals and coaches were reported to be the primary influencers of the athletes' first exposure to parasports, often providing coaching/ mentoring, emotional and psychological support, and/or informational support. Lack of available resources related to the physical, program, and social environments was the greatest barrier for initiation and continued participation in parasport. These findings highlight the importance of investing efforts into shaping quality sport experiences at the grassroots to support CYPD's sport trajectory.