Scottish FA programme promises to maximise disability football’s potential

Written by Cheri Burns.

By Cheri Burns:
After the spectacular sporting endeavour and triumphs witnessed during the 2012 Paralympic Games, the spotlight is now firmly on disability sport, and a scheme implemented by the Scottish Football Association (SFA) is aiming to bring new attention and plaudits to disability football.

The Scotland United: Scottish Football’s Disability Future Programme, which kicked off earlier this year and will run until 2017, focuses on helping any player to reach their full potential within the sport, no matter what obstacles they may have to overcome.

Explaining his hopes for this particular scheme, David McArdle, SFA Disability Development Officer said the opportunity is now there for anyone with a disability to get involved in sport. 

“We want to maximise possibilities for participants," said McArdle. "The levels that they can reach vary.  It can be as wide-ranging as playing for their local authority, within a grass roots club, or their full potential might be representing Scotland at a world championship, depending on their disability.
"Whatever their best may be, that is what we want to reach for.  That’s really what the main cusp of the programme is and of what we want to achieve within the SFA.”

He added:  “We all watched the Paralympics unfold throughout the last two weeks and the amount of exposure that disability sport has had shows that it doesn’t really matter what disability you have, where you’ve come from, what you do or what you think you can achieve, there is an opportunity for anybody out there. 
"All anyone who is keen to join us has to do is contact the SFA or their local Football Development Officer, plenty of things are happening at the moment. ”

As someone who has a wealth of experience in the game, David is charged with promoting and managing numerous aspects of it.

Describing his role and what it entails, he stated:   “I deal with any matters relating to disabled football and its players in this country.  That means that I could be involved with anything from international football, all the way down to enabling young kids to have the opportunity to kick a ball and have fun with friends or within a club environment.”

An evidently passionate and driven individual who is extremely committed to the cause, David, who currently manages the national Cerebral Palsy and Learning Disability squads, said it was a “natural step” for him to take up his post and one that he relished from the outset as it provides the perfect opportunity to “drive the sport further forward.”

Reflecting on public opinions and perceptions of this area of football, David was keen to point out that more individuals are engaging with it, also insisting that the emphasis is firmly placed on what players can do and the talents that they have, as opposed to being on their impairments.

He said:  “Within disability sport, probably in the last five years, there has been a huge interest – especially in football.  More people are starting to see that it’s not the disability that counts; it’s the ability, what people can do and what they can fully achieve that counts.  I think that the inspirational stories we’ve seen over the past few weeks have really brought things home.  Disability sport overall needs to be highlighted and featured more because it is something that can enrich and benefit the country as a whole.

“I think a lot of people felt that disability sport was just something that’s nice to do, but now we can really see that those at the forefront of it are achieving excellence – they are elite performers.”

Discussing the unprecedented success of the Paralympic Games and the repercussions that he anticipates this will have, not only the footballers that he is mentoring and supporting, but also for the industry in general, David believes that the positivity surrounding disabled sportsmen and sportswomen will act as an inspiration to youngsters.

He said: “We must make sure that the positive messages of the last six months don’t fall behind and that society is aware that disability sport does take place in Scotland. 
"Our Cerebral Palsy team currently being ranked as 7th in the world illustrates the opportunities that we have.  We fight to make sure that the legacy continues and that the youngsters come through.  Regardless of their disability, they can progress by using our programmes to assist them in their development.”

Given the accomplishments of the Scottish Cerebral Palsy team, it is apparent that there is no reason why those who have disabilities and dream of making a fruitful career for themselves in football cannot do so.

Outlining his plans for the future and how he hopes to nurture more home-grown stars, David said:  “We want to try and compete at the top levels.  There is no doubt that it is going to be a very difficult road for us, but with the commitment of the coaches and the aspirations of the players, we’ve got an opportunity to challenge the best countries.  

“The international programme is a very small part of what we do.   My primary ambition is to allow everyone to reach their full potential.  If we can put further stepping stones in place – other than those that are already there – then we at the SFA can ensure that this is a target that is met.”  

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