Giving children of all abilities the chance to play and enjoy sport is about more than competition and making champions.
For many children, particularly those with autism and other disabilities, sport is a chance to develop social skills and get active but they need a different type of support and sporting program to allow them to play.
Kellie Tait found those opportunities weren’t available in Ballarat when her son Cooper wanted to join Auskick. Cooper has autism and found the usual Auskick clinics overstimulating and overwhelming.
So in March 2016 she set up the first Access All-Abilities Sport Auskick clinic – a modified version of the mainstream clinic and 19 other youngsters joined Cooper for the first Auskick season.
Since then AAA Sport has expanded rapidly, now offering four different sports and two sports pathway programs which more than 160 children from the Ballarat region have taken part in.
“That’s a lot of children who were not accessing sport before,” Ms Tait said.
The importance of giving children of all abilities access to sport was in the spotlight last week as AAA Sports hosted its first sportsman’s lunch – Paving the Way to Inclusion.
“We have grown so dramatically in the past two years that we were really struggling to keep money up to the program by doing little chocolate drives and movie nights,” Ms Tait said.
Almost 200 guests joined sporting celebrities AFL footballers Brian Lake and Troy Simmonds, former test cricketer Rodney Hogg, and basketballer and four-time Olympian Ray Borner for the lunch at Housey Housey, which included a panel with Commonwealth Games para-athlete Sam Rizzo, Victorian all-abilities soccer team member Matt Holland, and Melbourne Cup winning strapper Stevie Payne.
“They shared their insights what it was like for them growing up having a disability and not having access to sport easily, and how a group like ours would have benefited them,” Ms Tait said.
The AAA program has grown from its first Auskick season to now include cricket, soccer and netball and Ms Tait is now developing a pathways program to further extend the participants.
“We identified fairly quickly that these grassroots programs like Auskick and Junior Blaster cricket are great for skills development and good for the kids, but some kids outgrow that really quickly and there’s a need for something else in the all-abilities space because after that the next level is championships for adults and there’s nothing in between,” she said.
“Our junior pathway program for AFL and cricket gives kids something to continue on with us so they don’t lose their love for sport and fall between the cracks.”
The pathways program combines further skills development with learning basic rules for a modified version of the game, and mini-games of cricket and football.
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Ms Tait said anyone with a disability or difference could take part in the AAA Sports program.
“We let anybody play – it doesn’t matter what the impairment is. Whoever needs help is welcome at our group.”
AAA Sport has partnered with Ballarat Grammar and use the school’s facilities and, in turn, Grammar students volunteer to help run the programs on Sunday mornings.
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