Michael Whapples from Leicestershire is blind and shoots air rifle. In 2011 he was the first British shooter ever to compete at the Open European Shooting Championships for the Vision Impaired, held at Nitra, Slovakia.Read More
Vic Morris lives in south Wales and is paralysed from the neck down as the result of an accident. With the aid of an 'equaliser' device invented by his coach, John Kelman, Vic shoots pistol and rifle.
Stewart Nangle, a Lancastrian, is pictured shooting .22 pistol. What the photograph does not show is that at the time one of his legs was fitted with a metal frame that was bolted into the bones.
Dave Froggett - NSRA Coaching & Development Manager
One of the biggest barriers to participation for disabled people is often the attitude of the coach, but applying common coaching practice is all that is needed.
If, when first introduced to a person with a disability, the coach thinks “This is beyond me” or “How do I deal with this?”, then the disabled person is going to be disadvantaged from the outset. It may sound a bit corny, but a lot can be achieved by taking the attitude that you will “see the person, not the disability” and will treat them as you would any other shooter or potential person coming into the sport.
How does this work? Well, when anyone comes for coaching, or is being introduced to shooting for the first time, you probably discuss what to expect and what you expect of them. If you are a qualified coach then this will naturally be a two-way process during which you receive feed-back on the capabilities of the individual, and make adjustments to suit their needs and level of ability. So why the difficulty with a disabled person? The same process takes place and we simply adapt the activity to the individual.
Some able-bodied people think they should pretend that the person doesn’t have a disability, so they try not to mention it! Clearly this isn’t going to work if we are going to help someone get involved in the sport as easily as possible, or if we are helping an existing shooter to develop. Disabled people generally don’t mind discussing what they can and can’t do, and will talk about it openly – again, the difficulty often comes from the coach.
If a coach and shooter are going to work together, look at the demands of the activity (be that the training element being considered for an established shooter, or the whole introduction to the shooting process for a beginner), and discuss how to bring it about. The training drills may need to be modified, equipment may need to be altered – anything that might make the activity accessible can be considered, whilst bearing in mind the outcomes you are both trying to achieve.
Obviously, one area we cannot compromise on is safety; we cannot reduce standards to make the sport more accessible. However, if, with a little thought we can maintain the safety standard and improve access, then why not? An example would be a deaf person. OK, he or she can’t hear you say “Stop shooting”, so a club might be tempted to say “sorry you can’t shoot” – but what if traffic lights were used? Or throwing a tennis ball into the range was a pre-arranged signal for that shooter, on top of the usual range commands for others?
Some reading this may be thinking, “I thought he was talking about wheelchair users”, and this is a popular misconception. Disability covers a very broad spectrum. We often try to put people into categories, and yes, we do this with disabled shooters at top level. If you can fit into SH1, SH2 or SH3 categories then rules of shooting are easy, as these categories are recognisable in the international disabled shooting rules. But there are many individuals who don’t fit these criteria who can still take part in shooting.
Also, we know that “stuff happens” and keen shooters can find they become unable to compete in the usual way due to injury or illness. With a bit of thought and ingenuity we can find ways of helping them to continue in the sport. In fact, one of the plans within the Disabled Shooting Project’s Working Group is the development of new competitions for disabled and able-bodied alike, catering for all levels of ability and all disciplines.
Not all disabilities are physical; again, the coach should apply the principle of communicating with any shooter, and ask himself “Are they receiving what I am transmitting?”. With most shooters this question is used to check understanding (of new techniques, or of safety issues with beginners) but with a potential shooter who has learning or attention difficulties it’s a question that needs to be repeated much more frequently, especially on issues of safety. Can they grasp what “Keep the gun pointing towards the target” means, for example? More supervision at “have -a-go” sessions can be used to bridge gaps, but obviously safe shooting is the ultimate test. Whilst we may be able to facilitate participation to a large extent, at some stage a decision must be made, taking into account both their abilities and the safety question, and the conclusion may have to be that they cannot take part.
An open mind is often all that is needed to open the door to disabled people getting involved in our sport. I personally think it enriches the sport and can provide fulfilment for coach and shooter alike.
Coaching is an option rarely taken up by disabled people. Generally the perception is one of the able-bodied coach working with the disabled performer, but there are some very notable examples of the opposite. Why shouldn’t a disabled coach work with able-bodied shooters and vice versa? It’s just a case of working out how to adapt your knowledge, skills and behaviour to different people, and what better way to enhance your skill as a coach within your zone of competence?