University research aims to break down barriers for disabled athletes

30 October 2019

Dr Robert Townsend
Dr Robert Townsend is looking to create opportunities in disability sport through research.

Major research is underway at the University of Waikato designed to offer more sport and recreation opportunities to New Zealand’s disability community, and deliver more coaches into the field.

University of Waikato lecturer, Dr Robert Townsend, is helping to drive long-term research into New Zealand’s disability sport sector, overseeing three doctoral students awarded special scholarships by the University.

“Our disability sector in New Zealand is currently underserved in research and we just don’t know enough about what’s happening. This research is about making our sport and recreation opportunities more accessible for all New Zealanders, and helping to break down barriers as we do it.”

Dr Townsend said one of the major barriers to sport for disabled people is the provision of high-quality coaching. The research would also explore what the barriers are for New Zealand coaches entering the workforce.

“We’re doing this to better understand sports coaches, and to include and support disabled people at the elite medal winning level, and also at the community level for the health and wellbeing of our disability community,” Dr Townsend said.

The research will examine three key areas:

  • Policies and practices that support inclusion in disability sport and active recreation
  • Coach development in disability sport
  • The welfare of Para athletes.

Researchers will work alongside the Halberg Foundation, Paralympics New Zealand, Special Olympics New Zealand, Sport Waikato, and Parafed Organisations in New Zealand.

“We know there are pockets of amazing work happening within all these organisations. Our research will also help bring more insight and direction into what’s being delivered.”

Dr Townsend has examined similar issues in the United Kingdom where he completed his PhD at Loughborough University.

“A major barrier to accessing sport and physical activity for disabled people is a lack of knowledge and understanding of disability,” he says.

“Coaches often talk about the fear of the unknown. The fear of doing or saying the wrong things, or even the fear of injuring the participants, are barriers to entering the disability coaching workforce.

“Talking about these barriers is often the first major step in breaking them down, but we need better education and development support for coaches.”

Other barriers for participants often came through access to sports facilities themselves.

“Not all pools have hoists. Some gyms still have stairs as access, and obviously changing all these things come at a significant cost to organisations which can also be a barrier.”

He said there is a real drive in New Zealand to be an inclusive society and, given sport’s potential to disrupt what we might see as negative perceptions around disability, it was certainly time for New Zealand to be looking more closely at the disability sport sector.

Dr Townsend is also working on a co-production project with athletes, coaches and other stakeholders from Special Olympics and Parafed Auckland to develop resources for coaches working in the disability sector, which they hope to launch early next year.

“We’re looking at producing resources for coaches, including infographics that draw directly from the voices of disabled athletes to help shape how disability coaching can be developed,” Dr Townsend said.

Latest stories

Related stories

University of Waikato Radiocarbon dating

Waikato researcher re-writing history of ancient human movement across the Pacific

A University of Waikato researcher is re-writing the history of ancient human movement across the…

2020 New Professors

University of Waikato announces new professorial appointments

Vice-Chancellor Professor Neil Quigley has recently acknowledged new Professors and Associate Professors of the University.

Professors Sarah and Roger Strasser

University of Waikato announces two new senior health appointments

The University of Waikato has today announced two senior appointments which will boost the University’s…

Maui Hudson

Indigenous genomics under the microscope at SING conference

The University of Waikato is hosted the first ever SING Indigenous Genomics Conference as international…

It's time to care about our insects

Dr Chrissie Painting, along with 70 other researchers from 21 countries, are calling for immediate…

University education researchers receive over $822,000 in research funding

Three research projects involving Waikato researchers have received funding from the Teaching and Learning Research…

Adams Centre for High Performance

Tertiary organisations collaborate to deliver sport and health degree in the Bay

Last week, the University of Waikato and Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology finalised an agreement…

Professor Bryony James appointed new Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research at Waikato

Professor Bryony James has been appointed as the new Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research at the University…

Michèle Prinsep

Waikato academic ranked in top one per cent in the world for research citations

A University of Waikato researcher who identifies compounds in marine species which could be used…

Professor Troy Baisden

Professor named new president of the New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS)

Professor Troy Baisden, who is based in School of Science at the University of Waikato,…

Sharna McCleary

Science student uses mushrooms to help clean up Whakatāne canal

Oyster mushrooms are helping to clean up an historically contaminated timber processing site in Whakatāne,…

Project to investigate earthquake frequency and activity on Hamilton’s faults

Newly discovered hidden faults in Hamilton, an area once thought devoid of any active faults,…