Together, Apart or Somewhere in Between: Considerations for Managing Para Sport

By Darda Sales. The author is currently a PhD candidate at Western University in London, Ontario.

As a four-time Paralympian, coach, and PhD candidate, I have heard the statement ‘Sport is sport’ numerous times and I agree that the goals of sport are consistent for able-bodied and para athletes: enjoyment, competition, pushing oneself to be the best one can be at their chosen activity. However, to ensure sport and physical activity meets its intended outcomes and is beneficial to all participants, sport managers working in para sport need to be aware of the discussion surrounding segregation and integration.

Segregated Para Sport Opportunities:

Segregated sporting opportunities allow para athletes to be themselves without the impact of ableist views weighing in on them. In my experience, segregation provides opportunities to be with only those with similar experiences, and these segregated environments allow para athletes to build their self-confidence and skills in an environment set up to meet their particular needs. It helps them connect with others who share similar background experiences. It also allows para athletes to make mistakes, to stumble and fail in an accepting environment, with less concern of judgement or scrutiny. Intended or not, a lot of pressure can be placed on para athletes if they feel that they are being expected to live up to the same standards as able-bodied athletes (Wolbring, 2012). A segregated environment can relieve that pressure and allow para athletes to develop their own skills, at their own pace, and in their own way.

Integrated Para Sport Opportunities:

Alternatively, integration is the intermixing of para and able-bodied athletes (Howe, 2007).  In Canada, para sport has seen an increase in training and competitive opportunities when sports such as swimming and athletics began to be integrated in the 1990s. Integration allows for increased access to educated coaches and well-equipped facilities. It allows para athletes to challenge themselves alongside other athletes who are chasing similar goals and dreams, whether those other athletes have impairments or not.

Note of Caution: simply allowing para athletes into your program is not true integration (Berry, 1996). Thought and consideration needs to be given to include para athletes in a meaningful way into programs offered. Having a para athlete in a program continually struggling to keep up with their non-impaired counterparts or fitting into a prescribed program or sitting on the sidelines is not true integration (Berry, 1996).

The integration of para athletes needs to receive consideration and thought as to what works best for the functional level of the para athlete, where they are now, where they have the potential to get to, and a set plan on how to help them reach their full potential. Swimming Canada is an example of an organization that continues to put time, effort and resources into improving the integration of para athletes within their programming.

A Hybrid Approach:

A fitness center with both a general and a women’s only workout room is a comparable idea to the optimal training environment for para athletes.  The women’s only room allows women to exercise in a segregated environment with others with similar experiences.  Women’s only rooms tend to have smaller equipment to fit the smaller size of some women, and provides them with a comfortable, judgement-free environment. The general room, in which people of all shapes, sizes, genders, and experiences exercise, tends to have heavier weights and more equipment. Women are welcome to train in whichever environment works best for their personal comfort and training needs. Sporting opportunities for para athletes need to take on a similar thought process as not one environment, segregated or integrated, will always be the best fit for all para athletes.

Having experienced both segregated and integrated training and competition opportunities as a para athlete, I fully believe that there is a time and place for both environments. If sport managers recognize and accommodate this need, it can result in long term para athlete engagement and success within their programs.

Capacity Building: A Comparison of Two Cases

By Patti Millar and Alison Doherty. Dr. Millar is an Assistant Professor at the University of Windsor in Windsor, Ontario and Dr. Doherty is a Professor at Western University in London, Ontario.

This research appeared in the July ’18 issue of the Journal of Sport Management.

Community sport organizations (CSOs) occupy an important place in the make-up of our communities by providing sport and physical recreation activities for all ages. CSOs, however, often face capacity-related challenges that can limit the impact that their programs have within their community. Organizations in this context have expressed challenges related to attracting and retaining volunteers, acquiring stable financial resources, and dedicating time to long-term planning.

Building off our previous research, and given the growing popularity of capacity building as a priority in the non-profit sector (Bryan & Brown, 2015; Girginov, Peshin, & Belousov, 2017), we took a closer look at the process of capacity building in both an organization that was successful in its efforts, and one that was not (Millar & Doherty, 2018). We uncovered the forces, whether internal or external to the organization, that initiated capacity building, the clubs’ perceived ability to respond to that force and whether it had the capacity to do so. We also uncovered the clubs’ readiness to implement capacity building strategies, and ultimately the clubs’ success in building capacity and responding to the initial force. We present an infographic that summarizes the contexts and findings of the cases, illustrating their respective experiences with successful and unsuccessful capacity building.

Blog Infograph

 

We found that both organizations initiated the process in large part in an attempt to address declining membership; this acted as the force that ultimately drove the organizations to introduce new leagues in hopes that this would counter the low membership numbers.

 

Of particular interest, the findings show that an organization’s readiness for capacity building can be a key factor in whether or not their efforts are successful. The curling club (successful case) had individuals within the organization who were willing to dedicate resources towards capacity building. It also identified areas of strength that could be leveraged during the capacity building process (e.g., relationships with local curling community). The club also reported that the capacity building strategies aligned well with its objectives, and therefore were less disruptive to operations.

 

The football club (unsuccessful case), on the other hand, despite an alignment between the capacity building strategies and the club’s objectives, expressed that a lack of willingness from the executive to plan and commit resources to capacity building was a key hindrance to the success of these efforts. The club also expressed that the added workload, and conflicts that arose as a result, combined with a lack of existing capacity, ultimately contributed to the failure of its capacity building efforts.

Together, these contrasting findings provide important considerations for organizations as they embark on the capacity building process:

  • Organizations are unlikely to build capacity simply for the sake of building capacity; there is some impetus that triggers the organization to react. Without recognition of that initial force, capacity building efforts will lack a strategic focus and are unlikely to be successful.
  • An assessment of capacity needs and assets should be conducted prior to implementing any capacity building strategies. These identified needs become the basis of the capacity building process, and so without a thorough assessment it is possible that an organization will overlook a critical capacity need. This also allows an organization to identify, upfront, capacity limitations that may hinder the process, as well as those assets that might be leveraged.
  • Perhaps most importantly, organizations should take the time needed to identify appropriate capacity building strategies that address their needs. These strategies should be ones that organizational members are willing to support, that are congruent with the organization’s processes, systems and culture, and that the organization has the capacity to implement. Without this readiness to build capacity, it is less likely that an organization will be successful in addressing its capacity needs.

The overarching finding from this study is that capacity building should be strategic in nature, such that the decisions made along the way are reflective of an organization’s mission, it’s internal and external environment, and should ultimately contribute to program and service delivery.

Interested in learning more about this research? Check out the article in the July 2018 Issue of the Journal of Sport Management.

References
Bryan, T.K., & Brown, C.H. (2015). The individual, group, organizational, and community outcomes of capacity-building programs in human service nonprofit organizations: Implications for theory and practice. Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership & Governance, 39, 426-443.
Girginov, V., Peshin, N., & Belousov, L. (2017). Leveraging mega events for capacity building in voluntary sport organizations. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 28, 2081-2102.
Millar, P., & Doherty, A. (2016). Capacity building in nonprofit sport organizations: Development of a process model. Sport Management Review, 19, 365-377.