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Ray McNamara has made a big impact as Sports Inclusion Development Officer with Mayo Sports Partnership
“THERE is no such thing as too much fun,” the American comedian Drew Carey once observed. And those taking part in the Sports Ability Day in Ballinrobe last May certainly took that message to heart.
The event was held to coincide with the launch of the Mayo Sports Partnership Strategic Plan ‘Increasing the involvement of people with a disability in sport’. Basketball, adapted athletics, wheelchair basketball, adapted dance, bocce and curling were all on the menu, and the 65 participants had a ball in the Lakeside Sports and Fitness Centre.
“I think you know things are going well when kids don’t want to go home,” explains Ray McNamara, Sports Inclusion Development Officer with Mayo Sports Partnership. “I think we went an hour over time. I got a good kick out of that [day] and it went down very well. If people aren’t running out the door to get away from you, if people are enjoying it, that gives you the confidence to do more.”
McNamara’s main task is to increase opportunities for people with a disability to participate in sport and physical activity. His office is on the top floor of Cedar House in Moneen, Castlebar, next to Roadstone, but much of his work takes him out and about. As well as Ballinrobe, the job has taken him to Swinford, Castlebar and Breaffy.
Now a new series of programmes are being rolled out for the autumn, and two projects in Westport are on the immediate agenda. One is an integrated gymnastics club ‘open to both abled and disabled people’ in Westport Leisure Park, where McNamara worked for eight years before taking on his current role last April. The other involves Westport Swimming Club, who are setting up a branch of the club for people with disabilities, ‘so that they’ll [all] be able to train at the same time and they’ll have their own coach’.
Elsewhere, the HOLD (Helping Ourselves Live with Disaibilities) group in Charlestown will be starting fitness activities and bocce this month. In Belmullet, a Sports Ability Day (run in association with Irish Wheelchair Association) has been scheduled for October 3, which is ‘open to anybody with a disability who’d like to come along’. McNamara is running disability awareness training in Óstán Oileáin Acla in his native Achill on Tuesday week, September 23, and in Westport Leisure Park on Friday, October 10.
“It’s about giving coaches and leisure centres the confidence to adapt some of the activities they do to include people with disabilities,” he explains. “With some coaches, there’d probably be a fear factor there – people wondering ‘how do I do it?’ or ‘what do I do?’. Disability awareness training is about informing the coaches that people with disabilities are well capable of participating in sport and physical activity.”
McNamara has spent the last two years acting as physical trainer for the Mayo senior hurling team, who came within a whisker of the Christy Ring Cup final recently. He believes the same principles apply in all forms of coaching.
“If you were [teaching] a skill, you might have to break down the skill right down to basic level to achieve success,” he says. “The important thing is that you create an environment where you achieve success. So if [the task involves] passing the ball back and over, the two people involved might have to stand closer together to ensure that the task is completed. You might have a little bit of trial and error, but you have that in ‘everyday’ sport as well.”
The Sports Inclusion Development Officer is also aiming to create a wheelchair basketball club for the county, and an inclusive gym fitness programme. These two projects have been pencilled in for October, and McNamara is looking for anybody who would be interested in either to get in contact with him. Wheelchair basketball does exactly what it says on the tin, as the saying goes, while the gym programme could involve individual programmes or aerobic sessions.
McNamara’s first task when he took on the two-year post was to write to every club in Mayo to get an idea of the state of current provision. The response from the 600 organisations contacted was ‘okay’ but the return of further completed questionnaires would be ‘very helpful’, he says.
The next landmark was the aforementioned Sports Ability Day in Ballinrobe, which took place alongside the launch of the Strategic Plan – McNamara’s ‘bible’. While many of the 20 other Sports Inclusion Development Officers around the country are having to draw up similar documents as part of their work, Mayo Sports Partnership was ahead of the game, so McNamara was able to hit the ground running.
There’s been a Sports Day at the Enable Ireland summer camp at Áras Attracta in Swinford, last Saturday’s Children Sports Day at the Breaffy International Sports Arena, and a pitch and putt project with the HSE Castlebar Training Centre.
“I got volunteers from the local community to buddy or partner people from the centre in a round of pitch and putt once a week every Wednesday for two hours,” explains McNamara, who played minor football with Mayo in 1993. “It proved very successful, there were 15 or 16 participants from there every week, and it actually ran for eight weeks instead of six. The lads are out ready to go before we even arrive, and last week, I just supervised things and let them play on their own. It’s all about giving people confidence.”
Further down the line, he aims to introduce programmes in other geographical areas – Ballina is on his ‘to do’ list – and undertake a full audit of sporting facilities, ‘to see how accessible they are for people with disabilities’. The advantages of involvement in sport for people with disabilities are myriad, according to McNamara.
“The plus points are exactly the same as for able-bodied people. You have health and wellbeing, the fitness factor, the social factor – getting out, getting involved in your community, in a club, getting to meet people. It has a real knock-on effect.”
Still sharing the feeling
IRELAND hosted the Special Olympics World Games in 2003, an event that ‘has really brought sport on in the disability sector’, according to Ray McNamara. Having the World Games in Ireland saw an explosion of interest in sport for disabled people, with numbers growing every year.
“The 2012 Olympics in London will probably bring an amazing amount of people into athletics in the next two or three years, because it’s so close,” says McNamara, Sports Inclusion Development Officer with Mayo Sports Parnership. “Similarly, having the Special Olympics in Ireland had a knock-on effect, and people want to get involved and participate, which is great.”
Service providers such as Western Care, Special Olympics, the Irish Wheelchair Association and Rehab Care ‘provide quite a lot of opportunities’ for people with disability according to McNamara.
But, he adds: “We won’t be tapping into the services all the time … I’d like to get the people that aren’t participating [in Special Olympics events]. Maybe there are people out there that don’t want to compete but would like to get out and exercise or take part in activities locally.”