Coaching Basketball to Children With Autism

Through my experiences as a volunteer basketball Coach at the Special Olympics New Jersey Sports Complex and working at various camps and clinics, I have encountered life changing practices through the teaching of developmental basketball. Many people assume that children with autism or other disabilities do not need to learn the necessary skills and concepts associated with basketball. However, I have discovered that it is essential to teach autistic children the same skillsets and concepts as children without disabilities but in a modified manner. As an aspiring College Basketball Coach, I focus on individual skill development, teamwork, and communication when volunteering. These three aspects of basketball are a few keys to success when coaching sports and are important to teach to children at a young age. As a volunteer, I was able to learn new and innovative ways to teach individual skill development, teamwork, and communication that will help children with autism develop their basketball skills and gain confidence and abilities that will help in the overall spectrum of living a healthy life.

Individual skill development is the foundation of becoming a better basketball player and players can improve by working on their weaknesses and expand on their strengths through individual skill development. When working with autistic children, I have experienced, as with some children without a disability, that the players are more incline to focus mainly on their strengths and are less interested in identifying a weakness. Furthermore, the players are usually reluctant to work on skills that could use more development. To overcome this developmental issue, I utilize a principle called “quick transition” to help children improve on weaknesses or areas where they aren’t as competent. The “quick transition” principle focuses on the child’s strength while quickly transitioning to a new task that needs more development and finally back to the player’s comfort zone. Getting a child with autism to get out of their comfort zone is a challenge and is exciting for me when it occurs. I have been successful with implementing this principle and would suggest to anyone, whose challenge is to motivate children with autism to work on their basketball weakness as well as strengths, to use the principle of “quick transition”. Individual skill development is an important element and is a much needed skill to facilitate the use of teamwork.

Teamwork is the backbone of basketball and all other team sports. Although it is important to have players improve on their individual skills, they must all play as a team in order to achieve one overall goal. Teamwork is the most challenging aspect of teaching children with autism but it can be done. The key here is to begin by introducing a basic concept of two individuals cooperating together to make a pass, score a basket, get a defensive stop, or any other concept of the sport. Once the players are comfortable with achieving a common goal as two people, appropriately transition them into a small group by adding another person into the equation. Once they become competent in this area, continue with adding other players until you reach the goal of five players on the team contributing to the conception of the overall objective. Coach Mike Krzyzewski, the head men’s basketball Coach at Duke University has a quote that reads, “Two is better than one, only if two acts as one.” This quote epitomizes teamwork and encourages players to understand the concept that working and cooperating as a team will get the job done more effectively and efficiently which is essential to get children with autism to learn. While teamwork is essential, teamwork needs to be cemented in communications.

Communication in basketball is one of the things that can separate a good team from being a great team. Communication is the voice that wills a team to victory because it creates energy, and provides structure and order. Children with autism may have different types of communication deficiencies. For example, I have coached children who communicated well with me using short precise words and sentences, and others who did not verbally express themselves at all. When communicating with children with autism, I’ve learned to keep my instructions direct, precise, and also to be repetitive and demonstrate exactly what it is I want them to perform. The act of demonstrating a specific skill or concept helps tremendously in the development of the players skills and they seem to enjoy being able to have a leader to mirror and imitate after. Of the three keys to success when coaching basketball to children with autism, communication seems most important in developing a great team and great players.

In conclusion, as an aspiring College Basketball Coach, I am constantly trying to teach and learn new and innovative ways to help players develop. Additionally, I am committed to helping athletes become socially conscientious and solid citizens of society. Children with autism need the same love and care as children without disabilities and need to be able to participate in physical activities if they desire to do so. Basketball is a great way to introduce the concepts of individual skill improvement, teamwork, and communication and will help with achieving an overall goal. The most interesting and fascinating element in coaching is the satisfaction of being able to coach and help diverse players. As I help these players from different background and abilities, they ultimately help me become a better coach, teacher, mentor, and leader. I hope that this article has introduced a few key concepts in coaching basketball to children with autism that you can implement into your playbook.