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New approach to sports explored for children with cerebral palsy

Unique living lab helps to gather information to support health and wellbeing through coaching



A new approach to sports coaching for children with cerebral palsy is being explored through research, which could benefit their health and wellbeing. 

The potential of implementing an approach to coaching known as ‘nonlinear pedagogy’ – a learner-centred approach that places the child at the centre of the task with the coaches manipulating the parameters of the environment to suit the children’s needs – is being explored. 

This approach allows them to challenge the children relative to their own individual capabilities.

PhD student Will Pattison ran a unique ‘living lab’ camp focused on football for children with cerebral palsy and one with Polymicrogyria, to help get them active and potentially boost their desire to stay active as they get older.

Will said: “Nonlinear pedagogy is yet to be applied to sport for children with cerebral palsy, but the alignment between the varying needs of children with cerebral palsy and the principles of nonlinear pedagogy mean this approach should be investigated. 

“The aim of this study was to apply this nonlinear pedagogical approach to children with cerebral palsy and gain an understanding of the children’s experiences and how this experience was different to what they usually do at home/school (done through qualitative research methods).

“We also gained an understanding from parents about their perspectives on their child’s experience and how this differs to their daily/weekly activities to further the findings of the study.”

The event, which took place at Sandon Park in Nuneaton with junior football club Ambleside JFC taking part, saw the children play creative games that immersed them within a storyline.

“Because of their varying needs it was about creating games that could be done at their own pace, while still being competitive and enjoyable,” said Will. 

“We could see the children changing day-by-day and growing in confidence massively.”

He is hoping the research will prove this nonlinear pedagogy should be utilised on a wider scale and demonstrate its suitability for use within sport for cerebral palsy and disability sport in general.

Will, who is a joint student/researcher between Coventry University and Stellenbosch University in South Africa, hopes to host further events to help get more children involved.

Michael Duncan, centre director for Coventry University’s Centre for Physical Activity, Sport and Exercise Sciences, said: “Events focused on cerebral palsy do exist but are not very well resourced and are not mainstream.

“I have not seen anything like this lab, which is not just research, but research that matters and improves the life of people. 

“It’s about empowering people and hoping to give them the competence and confidence to help them develop that ability throughout their lives. 

“If you can embed movement skills within the children then they are more likely to be active in the long-term.”

Rachel Guthrie, secretary of Ambleside JFC, said: “Having wanted to do a cerebral palsy-related football session for my son for many years, having the opportunity with Will and his colleagues after talking it through was something we, Ambleside JFC, couldn’t turn down.

“All the children and parents commented on how well it was run and how the sessions were tailored to all their needs. The feedback from parents was amazing, and they all wanted to know when we’ll be doing it again.”