Young people with learning disabilities are jumping at the chance to become sports leaders and FA-accredited football coaches, thanks to a scheme run in conjunction with a Premier League football club.
The Options Academy programme sees instructors from the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation coaching individuals from CMG, a care provider for people with learning disabilities and associated complex needs. The scheme gives trainees the opportunity to gain the qualifications necessary to gain employment in the sport and leisure industry, and also supports them to develop their CVs.
Once a week, trainees travel from around the country to Tottenham Hotspur’s learning zone and nearby Tottenham Community Sports Centre where they spend the morning learning sports theory in the classroom, and the afternoon practicing their skills on the pitch. As part of the programme, excursions are also offered to other sports venues, including Wembley and Twickenham.
CMG hopes that the programme will ultimately prove self-sustaining, with each year producing a new cohort of coaches to train others with learning disabilities.
Outside the programme, and with the support of CMG, second year trainees are using their skills to benefit others with learning disabilities by helping to establish Unified Football and Unified Netball leagues in London. Unified Sport is an inclusive initiative where people with learning disabilities play alongside people without, and these leagues are being formed in partnership with Special Olympics Great Britain.
Next year, CMG plans to expand the programme outside of London with two more Options Academies, in partnership with other football clubs.
Stephen Adamson, a CMG service user with autism, is just one person to benefit from the programme. His autism left him socially anxious and struggling to motivate himself. But since joining Options Academy last year, Adamson’s self-confidence has grown to the point that he has taken on a leadership role among his fellow trainees. Adamson is determined to apply the skills he’s learned beyond Options Academy, and is now trying to establish a weekly exercise session for people with learning disabilities in Croydon.
Michael Fullerton, director of quality and clinical Care at CMG, said: “The transformation for our service users after they’ve completed the Options Academy programme is remarkable. Giving them this responsibility boosts their self-esteem and makes such a difference to their lives.
“The people we support are at the centre of everything we do, and it’s wonderful to see how transformative it can be for people like Stephen.”
Dan Slaughter, inclusion development officer at Tottenham Hotspur Foundation, added: “The Tottenham Hotspur Foundation has seen first-hand the positive effect that Options Academy has on the lives of our trainees. We challenge them to improve their own health, well-being and self-confidence – and then motivate others to do the same.”