Vaulting is an impressive discipline that we often associate with top level athletes performing in the biggest championships around the world. Nevertheless, para vaulting is also a wonderful activity to help people. You will understand here why and how, thanks to Lizzie, a para vaulter & coach from the United Kingdom.
In this second article of the serie, Lizzie will help you step by step to open your vaulting club to para vaulters, in case you want to take the challenge! Anyway, her advice are also valid for any type of vaulters. Any coach willing to improve his skills can read the serie.
“I started vaulting in 2016 and now have 12 national titles in para vaulting, as well as a few from the RDA (Riding for the Disabled Association) in dressage and showjumping. I coach able-bodied and RDA/para vaulters and riders which I love!”
Read Discovering Para Vaulting – Part I, an introduction to the discipline and why it is so helpful for disabled people.
Including Para Vaulters in your Club
It might feel very daunting to open your club to disabled vaulters. This post aims to give some further insights into coaching para athletes and to inspire you to try it for yourself!
Step 1: Do your research
Just as you would with any new vaulter, you need to know the basics about them: name, age, likes/dislikes, relevant experience (if any) and medical conditions.
It’s vital that you know what the vaulter is mentally and physically capable of, and of any adaptations or accommodations that need to be made in the following categories:
- Communication (hearing, speech, eye contact, language simplicity, etc.)
- Understanding of safety rules
- Control of behaviour
- Ability to communicate their emotions (will you know if they’re frightened or confused?)
- Pain levels and ability to feel pain
- Contraindications e.g. forward rolls can cause serious neck injuries in some people with conditions like dwarfism or Down Syndrome.
- Social skills
- Balance, strength, coordination and flexibility
- Independence – will they need a buddy or helper?
As well as understanding a vaulter’s needs, good research means you need to learn from other coaches of disabled vaulters. If you can, visit them during a training session, but since those things are on hold right now why not try getting in touch virtually instead? Simply speaking to another coach will help you to feel more confident when it comes to you giving it a go.
Step 2: Initial observations
In the warm up activities and on the barrel, get an impression of the vaulter’s capabilities in all of those categories in Step 1. For example, are they paying attention to whoever is leading the warm up? Do they have good balance? Do they look like they’re enjoying themselves?!
You also need to consider mounting – and don’t be afraid to use non-standard methods. If they can mount with a bunk (leg-up) then that’s great, but, if not, using a mounting block is fine as long as your horse is OK with it!
One of my vaulters is very tiny and cannot reach the stirrup when the roller is on the horse. She is the only one I lift onto the horse and we have a compromise whereby she jumps as I lift. This way she learns to take some responsibility for her own mounting, which is good not only for her training in the long term but also for giving her a sense of control.
Step 3: Onto the horse
At this point your para vaulter is going to be like any other. You should now have an idea of what they can reasonably attempt. Be careful to look for signs of fatigue – even if the vaulter is fit from doing other sports they will be more prone to fatigue than the average able-bodied vaulter, especially if they have specific muscle weakness or a learning disability (they will hopefully have been concentrating hard during the session so far, which is tiring).
Be positive and reassuring. Coach them like anyone else!
Step 4: Knowing how to talk
To be a good coach of para athletes takes more than simply including disabled people. There are whole books to be written on this topic but, for now, here are some basic principles:
- Start by understanding what somebody cannot do. As a para athlete myself, there are few things more infuriating, demoralising and frankly humiliating than repeatedly being told to make impossible corrections. It’s very trendy in disability sport to focus on the ‘can’ rather than the ‘can’t’, which is laudable, but coaches MUST know, remember and understand what somebody simply cannot do. Remember that you’re looking at somebody with a disability – if they were able to do everything perfectly then they wouldn’t be disabled!
- Use what the vaulter can do. The ‘cans’ help to inspire the next move, to instal confidence, or simply to include.
- Work in small steps towards the ‘coulds’. There are loads of moves I can do now that took me a long time to learn and that seemed impossible once.
In other words:
Respect the ‘can’t’, use the ‘can’, and aim for the ‘could’.
Avoid saying, “You could learn this move if you work hard enough.” Some things aren’t possible with disability (it’s kind of the point of being disabled) and if the person works really hard and still can’t do it then they’re going to feel pretty miserable.
It’s not your responsibility, as coach, to cure the para vaulter. It’s highly likely that what you do will have an impact on a disabled person’s health, but your aim should not be to make parts of their body or mind work better, but to help them to perform the moves better – which will usually influence the other part!
For someone with a disability, this way of talking makes the activity fun and competition-focussed, rather than just another therapy. Shifting the focus away from the imperfect body to the desired move also makes things feel more achievable. Best of all, it feels as if your coach understands you and, therefore, respects you – and that is the best basis for any coach-athlete relationship!
In our next article about Para Vaulting, we will focus on adaptations. What could you do as a coach to adapt your lessons to para vaulters? Stay tuned!
If you want to contact Lizzie directly, feel free to do so through her Instagram account @TheParaVaulter.