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Our November 16th Powering podiums was great success allowing a number of different Sport Organizations to share both challenges and current practices on high performance Para Sport athlete identification and development. The purpose of the day was to understand synergies identifying and developing High Performance Parasport athletes to enable better:

  1. LTAD aligned athlete centred pathway –
  2. Coach led and optimally supported programming:
  3. Conversion of athletes to higher levels in the pathway:

Some assumptions entering the day were based upon findings discovered in the viaSport investment review which revealed common gaps that include

  1. Limited talent pool of athletes who meet sport specific classification needs
  2. Limited number and quality of competition opportunities to progress athletes toward High Performance Sport and to foster sustainable athlete pathway.
  3. Limited opportunities to engage and educate coaches toward parasport specialization and high performance sport

As a result, those athletes who make it to the upper echelons of sport success may due to chance rather than systematic support structures to guide and maximize their potential. As part of the facilitated workshop, participants were asked to identify their gaps related to para sport. These gaps were categorized into the following areas:

  1. Resources (Facilities and Equipment) Gaps still exist in gaining access to facilities for athlete with a disability or gaining priority access to facilities that are at the same or similar standard as able bodied athletes (Eg. Optimal Training Times) Cost of equipment is high, particularly when athletes begin to specialize in a particular sport with greater enhanced equipment needs or increased travel to get to quality competitions.
  2. Classification Classification varies across sports and frequently changes within sports making it difficult to identify an optimal pathway for athletes who wish to pursue a High Performance sport experience. Often it seems that the first sport to classify an athlete is the sport in which the athlete will specialize, even if the sport may not be the best option for the athlete’s continued progression in high performance. Education of coaches in different classification systems could be advantageous to help identify optimal athlete pathways. There was a desire among participants to identify a common standard for entry classification and identify potential options for athlete progress depending on a better informed classification standard. Further, there was also a need to ensure that athletes with minimal disabilities were better informed of parasport inclusion.
  3. Competition Structure Like able bodied sport, the desire to ensure quality competition is a gap for para-sport where there is even a smaller pool of athletes in which to compete. This means that finding appropriate level of competition requires travel or event hosting which may be a limiting factor if funding is scarce. While the ability to engage able bodied competition may be feasible in some sports there is sometimes a reluctance to integrate parasport competitors or provide a meaningful event that can enable a variety of classifications.
  4. Coaching Many of the best para sport coaches have “fallen” into the role as opposed to being developed through a well-defined para sport coaching pathway. Self-selection toward coaching athletes with a disability has required many coaches to seek out their own resources and information for professional development. Coaches who were former para athletes likely have some sport specific context and could be targeted into para sport coaching roles. Coaching qualifications need to demonstrate para sport credential. Further, there is likely a disparity between able bodied and para coaches when it comes to remuneration and professional credibility.
  5. Sport system alignment The integration of para sport into the parent sport organization at the provincial level is different than at the National level where the parent sport operates para sport programming. Many able bodied local and provincial sport organization are not equipped to identify and foster development of athlete who may have potential in a parasport pathway. While disability sport organizations play a valuable role in para sport, there may be some advantage to aligning high performance athlete targeting within able bodied organizations where appropriate. Funding remains a big challenge for athletes who wish to progress in the High Performance pathway, particularly at the lower levels prior to accessing national team funding. Some participants identified that disability sport organizations may be able to access other funding sources that support HP programming, wherein these funds may be untapped by able bodied organizations. There is certainly a keen debate on whether to integrate or segregate para sport.
  6. Athlete Center Pathway Recruitment of athletes may come from two sources, those with congenital versus acquired disabilities. For athletes with disabilities (congenital and acquired), the pathway may vary depending on classification, and therefore minimize opportunities to sample a variety of sports while promoting early specialization. Further, there may be some apprehension within sports to see promising athletes transfer to a different sport, or to manage training and competition opportunities where an athlete may be able to participate and excel at more than one sport.

Structure of the day (Presentations)

The format for the day utilized both presentation and facilitation methods to reflect on current practices and also to identify both challenges and strategies related to para sport programming. The following mini presentations were delivered throughout the day to assist participants to reflect on current HP practices. Please see the attached presentations in each of the areas identified below.

  • Para Sport Synergies Introduction and Facilitation [PDF] – David Hill
    This presentation provides some current data based on para sport athlete tracking
  • BC Wheelchair Sports Association [PDF] – Lisa Meyers
    Presentation highlighted current practices and successes in coaching education
  • BC Athletics [PDF] – Chris Winter
    Presentation highlighted current practice and challenges related to Para Sport Athlete pathway in athletics
  • Rowing BCMartin George
    Presentation examined challenges in recruiting and identify para athletes in the Rowing
  • BC Adaptive Snow Sport [PDF] – Fannie Smith
    Presentation identified challenges in maintaining HP programming and a need to find innovative practices to target and recruit athletes in para alpine skiing
  • Triathlon Canada [PDF] – Carolyn Murray
    Presentation highlighted challenges and opportunities in developing athletes to medal at Paralympic Games
  • Integrated Support teams for Para SportMelissa Lacroix
    Presentation examined the utility of service practitioners at National team and strategies for enhancing services across para sport athletes
  • Para Coach Pathway [PDF] – Candice Drouin
    Presentation highlighted challenges in living the para sport coaching pathway to make a Para First mentality
  • Canadian Paralympic Committee [PDF] – Catherine Gosselin-Dupres
    Presentation on the current state of para sport in Canada and challenges in creating classification standards

Following lunch there was a fantastic panel presentation by former and current Paralympians facilitated by Candice Drouin. CSI Pacific would like to thank Dan Westley, Marni Abbott-Peter and Johnathan Dieleman. All discussed the influence of key role models in shaping their athlete pathway and having the access to high quality training and coaching while also having access to facilities and equipment. All athlete were very driven toward excellence in their given sport(s).

Action Planning

The final workshop session of the day was a facilitated discussion to identify actions to further para sport synergies within British Columbia. Abbott et al. (2005) model for athlete identification and development was used to as a framework to identify objectives that could be sought at each stage of development (See Figure below). The model draws on Cote, J., & Vierimaa, M. (2014) model of sport participation, identifying sampling, specializing, investing and maintaining stages of development, but also adding the ability to identify talent at each stage based on a continuum from potential to performance.

The unique feature of this model suggests that through sound monitoring of performance dimensions, athlete talent could be directed to alternative sports where athlete may have greater disposition for development. The degree to which classification may influence sport specific specialization may be a critical stage within the model. Therefore, transfer opportunities, may exist based on a clearer understanding of potential classification structure and purposeful monitoring of athletes through their pathway. The opportunity to transfer were certainly echoed in the pathways identified by the Paralympic athlete panel with Daniel Westley competing both in Para Alpine and Para athletics, and Jonathan Dieleman, whose entry into para triathlon, led to an investment in para-swimming at the Rio Olympics.

The table below was use to categorize recommendations that could impact the pathway and system to support athletes with a disability at the different stages.

Sampling Specializing Investing Maintaining
  • Improve facility access ensuring sport organization liaise with municipalities / facility groups in design or modifications
  • Standardized simplified para sport classification guidelines for parents and coaches
  • Multi-sport screening of athletes
  • Create and continue linkages to military / DND
  • Maximize opportunities for Multi-Sport Try it days and increased communication across P/DSOs
  • Foster coaching opportunities and education (eg. run, jump, throw, wheel; coaching athletes with disabilities.
  • Developing athlete targeting criteria that enables athletes to be identified in more than one sport.
  • Classification events to identify pathway opportunities (Able vs ideal)
  • Focus on Psycho-behaviour elements that help athletes maintain multi sport participation
  • Identify and support pre-targeted athletes who can transition to sport(s) specialization
  • Grouping athletes by like sports (team, endurance, precision, speed/power) as opposed to classification
  • Providing performance enhancement support (S&C, mental, nutrition) across sports or in multi-sport setting.
  • Ensuring coaches are highly informed and educated regarding classification.
  • Increase awareness of transfer opportunities or dual sport pathways
  • Maximize integration between NSO and P/DSOs to create better pathway alignment.
  • Minimize costs and incentivize athlete to continue in pathway (Eg. Strategically using Sport Canada Carding earlier in pathway)
  • Helping to support athletes to train in home communities while maintaining a quality daily training environment.
  • Largely NSO directed programming and support of athletes.
  • Ensuring elite athlete have ability to role model and mentor athletes earlier in the pathway.

Based on the small group discussion and interaction some clear actions were identified as a result of the day. Clearly there are several key initiatives that are already in place, and there may be a need to maximize effectiveness and engagement in these initiatives. These actions are summarized below and will be prioritize based on surveying provincial stakeholder on their ranking and or importance.

  1. Create simplified classification pathway. The project would envision a flow diagram of potential pathways either based on disability or sport grouping.
  2. Coordinate online platforms to help participants engage sport organization or information. viaSport has an online tool called the ASH (accessibility sport hub) and Canadian Paralympic committee has a “find a club and sport” portal. This action would seek to investigate the utility of these resources to create optimal engagement of potential athletes.
  3. Create Public Service announcement around 2018 Winter Paralympic Games to maximize awareness of para-sport opportunities.
  4. Coordinate second meeting (Powering Podiums) of P/DSOs and NSOs linked to 2018 Paralympian Search
  5. Create plan and opportunity to deliver relevant semi-centralized Sport Science support for targeted athletes in multi-sport setting. (eg. Strength and Conditioning sessions at key regional hubs).
  6. Maximize engagement in 2018 Paralympian search by having P/DSO identify and target athlete to attend event.
  7. Create a provincial High Performance para sport committee to oversee synergies, programs and objectives to further athlete development opportunities.
  8. Created targeted education professional development workshops for coaches (Eg. Classification 101, Facilities Access 101, Wheelchair sports 101, Para-Sport Risk Management 101)
  9. Hire a full time High Performance Manager for parasport aimed at Talent Identification, Athlete Targeting, Coach Education and Liaising across different sport organizations.
  10. Investigate integrating High Performance Athlete targeting and programming into able bodied PSOs where the sport or programming exists at the National Sport Organization
  11. Enhance inclusion education and initiatives across all sport organizations to provide the necessary resources to support the full inclusion of athletes with disabilities in the provincial pathway

Abbott, A., Button, C., Pepping, G., & Collins, D. (2005). Nonlinear dynamics, psychology, and life sciences: Unnatural selection: Talent identification and development in sport Human Sciences Press p 82


Cote, J., & Vierimaa, M. (2014). The developmental model of sport participation: 15 years after its first conceptualization. Science & Sports, 29, S63-S69. doi:10.1016/j.scispo.2014.08.133