New partnership breaking down barriers to participation

Marie Little Shield 2014

Jenny O’Keeffe has coached netball teams from as young as Under 8s through to being part of a national league team. But one of her greatest joys has been to coach the Netball NSW Marie Little OAM Shield team for the past two years.

The Marie Little OAM Shield provides an opportunity for players with an intellectual disability to compete at a national tournament and O’Keeffe, who was an assistant coach under Julie Fitzgerald at the Sydney Swifts during the Commonwealth Bank Trophy, said her involvement has been a rewarding experience.

“I’ve been involved in disability programs and had experience working with students with intellectual disabilities,” O’Keeffe said.

In terms of their development, what I was excited about was watching them socially – personally and the friendships they formed – and all the other things that occurred over the period we were all together.

“They’re all still communicating with each other and talking about next year.”

Netball Australia recently announced a new partnership with Special Olympics Australia to provide athletes with an intellectual disability with another avenue to play netball.

“This partnership will ensure that people who are living with an intellectual disability who currently do not play sport will get the opportunity to participate and experience the friendships, joy and health benefits playing netball offers,” Special Olympics Australia Chief Executive Officer Nicola Stokes said.

O’Keeffe said anything that strives to remove the barriers to participation in netball is a fantastic initiative.

Marie Little Shield 2014“Some of our netballers are involved in other sports that Special Olympics provides opportunities in,” she said.

“A lot of players are now starting to approach our players or myself saying `we really want to be involved and how do we go about doing that?’”

Next Wednesday 3 December, is the International Day of People with Disability, which is a United Nations sanctioned day that aims to promote an understanding of people with disability and encourage support for their dignity, rights and well-being.

In Australia, more than four million Australians identify as having a disability which fall within the subgroups of sensory or speech, intellectual, physical, psychological including mental illness, head injury, stroke or brain damage, or other.

Netball Australia’s Head of Sport Development AnneMarie Phippard said the sport has a proud history of supporting athletes with an intellectual disability.

“Netball Clubs and Associations across Australia run weekly competitions that enable these athletes to play among their friends and in front of families and to become an integral part of the netball community,” Phippard said.

“However we know that not every Club and Association currently provides this opportunity and there’s still more work to be done. Participation rates – in all sports – for people with any kind of disability are much lower than they should be.

“We know there are considerable challenges and barriers to participation that we need to overcome.

“We want to ensure that everyone, regardless of their age, ability, gender or background, can enjoy the benefits of being involved in netball on a regular basis.

“These included understanding teamwork, developing communication skills, building confidence and self-esteem, feeling a sense of belonging and community and – most importantly – having fun.”