How to adapt and modify your sport activities to include all

One of the most important contributors to successful inclusion in sport activities is adapting things to suit the needs of individual participants. In particular this applies to disability, where, adaptations are applied so that participation in activities or development of sport-based skills can occur effectively.

This is where having a simple and repeatable process can come in handy. Coaches, activity leaders, program planners and administrators can all benefit from having a method of making appropriate adaptations and modifications to sport activities. This can even extend to skill acquisition specialists, as you will see when we explore the SEMA model later. In addition to the adaptation methods we are about to explore it is important to think about the range of options that are available, for this we can apply what is called the Inclusion Spectrum. So it is highly recommended that you check out this post and apply these concepts together.

We will cover four different methods here. Each method varies in complexity but all aim to achieve the same outcome, which is to make sure all participants can get involved and excel in your activities in a meaningful way that is both fun and challenging, regardless of ability or impairment. As you will see each method identifies key things that can be changed in both planning and delivering activities, whether it’s specific skills, general training sessions, games or other active recreation activities.

So lets start with the simplest and work our way towards some more advanced approaches.

TREE Method

As you will find with each of these methods the name is an acronym. The letters of TREE represent four aspects of sport activities that can be modified. The TREE method is adapted from the Australian Sports Commission’s Disability Education program and is designed with coaches and activity leaders in mind. It is popular in many sports and coach education systems for its simple and intuitive approach. It can be used to not only plan activities but is also a good method to apply on the fly. Which is useful especially in participation sports and activities where you may not know much about your participants until they run out onto the field of play.

You can also check out our TREE video here.

This is all about how the coach delivers the activity, how they organise, lead and communicate. How coaches go about things can have a big impact on successful inclusion. Heres some things to try:

  • be aware of the abilities and needs of all the participants
  • use age appropriate language
  • keeping instructions short and simple and check for understanding
  • be mindful of your positioning, are participants within visual and audible range
  • using appropriate physical assistance — guide a participant’s body parts through a movement
  • use of visual aids and demonstrations, such as white boards or cue cards
  • try a buddy system
Making changes to the rules that govern games and activities can enable greater inclusion. You can remove or simplifying rules then as skill and understanding increase reintroduce them. Here are some suggestions:

  • allow for more bounces in games like tennis, more steps in basketball or more hits in volleyball
  • reduce the number of players on a team to increas the chances of getting invovled
  • increase the number of players on a team to decrease the amount of activity required by each player
  • more frequent substitutions
  • allow rolls, bounces, or underarm in cricket, baseball or softball
  • modify the distances for pitching or defending
  • reduce or remove competitive elements such as scoring
This is all about making changes to the space, for the whole group or individuals within the group. Try these approaches:

  • reducing or increasing the size of the playing area
  • implement zones within the playing area
  • reduce net, hoop or goal height and width
  • using a smooth surface such as an indoor court
  • limit distractions in the surrounding area such as loud music, unnecessary equipment or other activities
This all about changing the thing used to play the game or complete the activity. Try these out:

  • change the size
  • change the weight
  • change the colour
  • change the length
  • change the way you use it
  • use balls that bounce less or float more
  • use equipment that contrasts with the area of play
STEP Method

As with TREE the letters of STEP represent the areas of focus, which can be modified to cater for the skills, abilities and needs of your group. STEP was implemented in the United Kingdom’s Youth Sport Trust TOP Sport Program. It is similar to TREE in that it is aimed at coaches and activity leaders and is also great for adapting activities on the fly. The main difference is the element of People, which is not explicit in the TREE method.

This is all about changing the space in which the activity takes place. Much like environment detailed in TREE above but also considers aspects of rules of the game that apply to the area of play.
This is about changing the nature of the activity, game or skill. Consider these things:

  • break skills down into their component parts
  • practice skills alone or with a partner before incorporating into a game
Again like with TREE above you can make changes to the equipment used in the activity. Apply the same suggestions from TREE.
This is all about making changes to the people participating in the activities. This might include changing the numbers or ways in which people are involved and how they interact which each other. This might include:

  • match players of similar abilities
  • balance teams according to the overall abilities of the whole group to maximise participation
CHANGE IT Method

This approach has a few more letters to remember but works along the same lines as TREE and STEP. CHANGE IT has been implemented in a number of programs most notably the Australian Sports Commission’s Active After School Program. It lends itself well to less structured games based activities where you have a wide range of ability levels among participants. It covers the same ground as TREE and STEP but is perhaps more specific. So it lends itself well to use by coaches and activities leaders but also lends itself well to application in less formal sport settings such as in schools and general active recreation activities. The big difference and added complexity comes with the addition of Inclusion and Time. CHANGE IT offers greater range of elements to adapt in your activities than perhaps TREE and STEP.

Like in TREE this is all about how the coach delivers the activity, how they organise, lead and communicate. Refer to the suggestions in TREE above.
You can change the way you score. Consider:

  • multiple scoring options
  • different scores for different players or positions
  • remove scoring all together
Like environment from TREE and Space from STEP you can change the area of play to maximise participation. Refer to the suggestions in TREE and STEP above.
You can change the number of players on teams or participants in the activity. See the suggestions in People from STEP above.
Like in TREE the rules can be changed to make sure everyone can participate. Refer to the suggestions from TREE above.
You can make changes to the equipment used in the activity. Apply the same suggestions from TREE.
This is all about making sure everyone in your group or team gets equal chance to take part. Think about these things:

  • ensure everyone has to touch the ball before the team can score
  • make sure each player has equal the field of play
  • allocate different player roles or match positions to participant abilities
Changing time can enable more effective participation. Here are some suggestions:

  • change the duration of the game or activity
  • complete “this many” repetitions in 30 seconds
  • include additional or longer rest periods
SEMA Method

Now, with SEMA we ramp up the complexity levels quite a bit. SEMA is a model developed by Yeshayahu Hutzler from Zinman College at the Wingate Institute of Sport Sciences in Israel. SEMA is short for “Systematic Ecological Model for Adapting Physical Activities”. In essence this is all about translating theory into practice and in reality TREE, STEP and CHANGE IT have their theoretical foundations in the SEMA approach.

SEMA is going to be most useful for technically minded coaches with a focus on skill acquisition and improvement. For the purposes of this post we will focus on the practical application of SEMA but the theory behind it is not only really important its quite interesting too. In quick summary though, SEMA takes its foundations from three important places.

  • Action Systems Theory
  • International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health
  • Adaptation Theory

To learn more about the theoretical foundations follow the links at the end of this post.

Remember SEMA stands for “Systematic Ecological Model for Adapting Physical Activities”. The most important part to understand is what Ecological means. This draws from the theoretical foundations mentioned earlier; it incorporates analysis of the individual (their own capacity and personal resources), the environment (and how this influences the performance criteria of the task to be performed) and the task itself (the requirements to be performed). The SEMA model then applies a step-by-step process to achieve the desired outcome, which is the improvement or acquisition of skills by someone with disability. In practice this could also extend to non-technical skills based outcomes where the task might be about involvement in an activity.

So what are the steps?

  • 1. Define your Task
  • 2. Define successful performance criteria
  • 3. Identify barriers and facilitators
  • 4. Identify performance errors
  • 5. Adaptation suggestions

Watch the video below from our friends at The Inclusion Club. It provides a great explanation of each step in simple terms.

In summary

So you now have some tools for the kitbag to assist in making adaptations to your sport activities. TREE, STEP and CHANGE IT provide simple practical approaches you can implement in just about any situation. SEMA takes a more advanced approach but is just as applicable. Pick one or a combination that works for you.

But before you go ahead and apply these methods in your next session there are a few important things to always consider, some rules to follow.

Rules
  1. Maintain the integrity of the activity or task – Don’t change things so much that it is no longer the same task, skill, game or activity.
  2. Keep it challenging – don’t make it too easy for the participants and aim to remove adaptations over time as skill and understanding improves.
  3. Involve participants in decision making – this will get buy in from participants and ensure you meet their specific needs.
  4. Only make changes if you need to – don’t make changes for change sake, not all participant need adaptations to participate or achieve the tasks required.
  5. It may not be possible to include all people all of the time – safety is always the priority so try your best but use common sense.

We’d love to know if these approaches have worked for you or if you have used other methods. Share in the comments what you used and how it went!

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