Teaching Sports Skills and Games

Athletes with a disability compete from club to international level in a wide range of sports. Wheelchair Basketball has been included in the Paralympics since 1960

While there are some considerations concerning rules, equipment and sometimes technique, coaches do not in general need to treat athletes with a disability differently from any of their athletes. A coach can ensure their approach is inclusive by applying something called the TREE principle.

TREE stands for:

  • Teaching/Coaching style
  • Rules and Regulations
  • Environments
  • Equipment

We encourage coaches to use a Game Sense approach. Put simply, this means using activities and fun games to teach the various skills of a sport.You can teach many basketball skills (passing, dribbling and moving with and without the ball) without even having a basketball hoop!

In the application of Game Sense, the coach can use the TREE approach to help them adapt and modify game situations to be more inclusive of people with a disability. Through careful observation, a coach can highlight problems that players are having and how they go about addressing them. Where people with a disability are included in the game the observing/questioning role of the coach is paramount to find the best possible inclusive situation.

Consider how using the TREE principle can help:


You are a coach of a basketball squad that has one player with an intellectual disability and one player with impaired vision. The game you are playing requires two players to retain possession from a third player without the third player intercepting or gaining possession of the ball: a simple five-minute defence/possession activity.

As you start the session you notice that the player with impaired vision when on offence keeps dropping the ball and, as a single defensive player, cannot get close to touching or retrieving the ball. Also, the player with an intellectual disability seems a bit confused and “disturbed” by all the activity.

Observation and questioning:

In applying the TREE principle you could ask the following questions, which could be directed at the whole group, at the smaller individual three-person groups or even to individuals:

  • Is the game too fast? What can we do to slow it down?” (Rules)
  • What can we do to give (the person with vision impairment) the best possible chance of catching the ball?” (Equipment and Environments)
  • “What is the best position for players to stand?” (Environments)

In response to these questions, some adaptations to the activity may be suggested that will help inclusion. These could include using bounce passing only to slow the game down and provide the person with a vision impairment an auditory cue.

They may include using lighter, brighter or slower (partly deflated) balls. It may mean changing the orientation of particular groups, for example, the group with the person with an intellectual disability conducts the activity in a more closed environment (in the corner of a room facing away from the group). This would help minimize distractions.

Coaches do not need to protect athletes with a disability from failure, give unearned praise or lower their expectations and standards for behaviour. Athletes with a disability are no more “courageous” than any other athlete who works hard to achieve a goal.

In turn, an athlete with a disability must accept the risks, challenges, discipline, repetition and frustration, which are part of being a competitive athlete.

It is not essential to acquire extensive, detailed knowledge of causes, incidence levels, pathology, medical terms and the like to coach an athlete with a disability. The coach should check the health status of all athletes (whether they have a disability or not) and once it has been established that no medical or health-related condition exists, it is more important to spend time with the individual to assess their needs and ability.

The most effective coaches are those with sports specific knowledge and this is particularly important in coaching athletes with a disability. This knowledge is essential to know how to break skills into component parts and how to match each of these components with the athlete‟s ability level.

As with all athletes, the coaches should:

  • Assess individual strength and weaknesses
  • Set challenging and realistic goals
  • Communicate efficiently
  • Provide specific constructive feedback