TIC TALK Podcasts

Exploring personal experiences of inclusion

TIC TALK 21: Doug Williamson

A podcast with Doug Williamson
April 2015
Doug Williamson

Doug Williamson

Sports Ability

Doug Williamson is a founder, creator and inspiration behind Sports Ability, an inclusive games program that is delivered across the world. Sports Ability has given young people with high support needs the opportunity to participate in genuine sporting contests and activities, often for the first time. It’s innovative, unique and the brain child of Doug Williamson. Here, we sit in the back of Ken’s car and have a chat to Doug.

Transcript TIC TALK with Doug Williamson

Peter:

For this Tic Talk, we’re sitting in the back of Ken’s car somewhere in Nottinghamshire and it’s a great pleasure to sit next to Doug Williamson in the back of the car. It’s just too good of an opportunity to miss to have a chat to Doug, who—

Doug:

Especially in the back seat.

Peter:

Especially in the back seat, it’s not often you get that chance to—yeah, so to have a chat about Doug’s long involvement over many years of adaptive and inclusive sport. Doug, we were just talking a second ago—a little bit ago about the social model approach in school in school settings, the sort of approach that regular teachers can have towards adapting and modifying activities for kids with disabilities. How does that translate into the real life school setting?

Doug:

I think a lot of people have been distracted by the cerebral discussions about the medical model versus the social model. What I think is, there’s something totally different to do with socialization in school and that is that the PE teachers should be really aware that the only way to get the child involved in PE and sport in school is to get them socialized in amongst the group of people. So it’s the socialization of the youngster with the impairment or the challenges into their groups then.

So somehow, you have to give them positive marks, they can take (01:38), do (01:38), have a football team they support, which bands, music they’re interested in so the child’s profile is seen as just more parallel to these other peers in their classes then, and their teachers should really enhance this kind of thing and then they would find the child would fit into the PE context in a much more suitable manner in the thing and not worry too much about the adaptions or anything, it’s the social fitting in, the social adaption, that’s the way I would try and do a new model, do a new paper.

Peter:

Is it kind of a cause and effect if you get the environment kind of right, then the sport and activity will kind of look after itself?

Doug:

Yes, yeah. And I’ve often said to students, what really you want to happen sometime with the young—individual child and parent in a mainstream school, is for them to do something wrong and get chastised by their PE teacher in some way because then, the others will look upon that child, oh, that’s a positive strike for his peers in some way.

Peter:

That’s a good point.

Doug:

It’s a survival way and that’s the sociology how kids work in the school context so you have to think outside the box and do it that way and I think if we put more effort into getting teacher’s heads around this way of doing it, become friends with those youngsters then, you know, sit and have a talk with them. I had a chat with a student at university, first year student at university a number of years ago and I said to him, I think your profile would fit in to the cerebral palsy running group, do you want to come have a chat with me in my office sometime? I’ve got contacts. And he came down there, he sat down there and we were just talking and he said Doug, this is extremely difficult for me to do this conversation with you because I’ve never talked to anybody in the world before about my having (03:31) like you call it. It’s the first time he talked to anybody in the world. Well that’s a role that the PE teacher could do with these kids while they’re growing up.

So there’s—that’s what I’ve learned from what really happens to some of these people in that way then, really. So there’s a different social perspective on what I think we could try, really.

Peter:

Yeah. Well let’s get actually into to the adaptive area, activities situation. Doug’s a grand master in terms of the looking how to create, adapt, modify, create kind of inclusive games, he’s the man behind sports ability. Doug, I’m interested, what are the—the original starting point for you? You described it a little bit earlier when we were in the pub, there was a bit of a starting point but how did those ideas about adapting modify flourish and come from?

Doug:

Well I don’t know about the grand master, I don’t know whether you recognized my hand shake at all, Peter, at that particular point, I don’t think there was adaptive handshake there. I suppose it comes back—and I mentioned earlier that I was in disability swimming and what really motivated me was the technical challenges, how you got somebody with a certain profile to go faster in the water, either to learn the stroke or to go faster later on. And so I suppose when I found youngsters who couldn’t do real mainstream sports, that technical kind of challenge, which I get a buzz from, that really sucked me in so it’s really how you actually get a game with dignity for young people, that’s the bottom line in that way.
So we’ve taken cricket, we’ve always treated it and held tight on certain aspects of the game because that’s the way other people will see (05:31) cricket and that’s the way the children will see it and you can go in there and that’s (05:36) tough like, that’s what sport is then. So whilst you can adapt so far, you’ve really got to hold the ground, otherwise you lose the dignity and it becomes, as I said before, just beanbags in a bucket.

Peter:

Yeah. Is the dignity—is that the kind of starting point you often use to look at new types of activities for people?

Doug:

Yes, and I think I probably have changed over the years, in the early years, and Ken will agree with it. We probably would walk along because we had what we call captured populations. Teachers would bring us a population from a school, an adult training center, and those youngsters would have no say in it at all and Ken and I would march off into the sunset and do these adaptions. Well nowadays, I do it quite differently, I would have a basic idea that I would actually empower the youngsters to do it and be involved in it. And then if we go back to the schools in this new kind of social vein that we were talking about before, I’d actually get the teachers to empower the youngsters in the class. Right, little Johnny here, or Mary, they’ve got to play this game of rugby or how are we going to get them into it? We can’t do anything until we actually work this out, and let’s try a couple of ideas and they get stuck into it and off we go.

So there’s the idea about nowadays I would be different, Ken as well probably, we’d empower youngsters and you get some fascinating things because they see things differently. So goodness certainly knows what we would have done if we’d done this 30 years ago.

Peter:

As a staff.

Doug:

Well we may not have got what we got. And in those days, you had to battle to get things established and youngsters weren’t empowered in those days, they were operating in a medical model level whereby you do as you’re told, so they may not have been as responsive then because they were surrounded by a model. Whereas youngsters nowadays, you ask them for one idea, you get 23 others, nowadays.

Peter:

You might be underselling yourself a bit, obviously the role is probably changed in terms of how you facilitate and empower others in the workshops. What about training the trainer, you do a lot of training of other people to be able to then deliver sports ability type activities. Are there some key kind of tips, ideas about how do you empower—

Doug:

I think when you come across the trainers and when you come across the teachers, you set out, I suppose now (07:57) adaptive game and you say basically this is what it is, let’s get on, we’ll learn by doing it. And as you go through that way, they come up with other ideas. And I think this is the way you just suck them into the situation and then after awhile, you hear little comments like, oh, I’m gonna try that when I get back to school and that. So rather than going and doing it in a very didactic way, like Ken and I might have done it years ago, you kind of come in the back door (08:24) laid back approach and say well this is interesting, isn’t it? Let’s see what we can try and do and now people are a bit more open-minded, I think and you get them into it.

And then you can get what I said the other day or few hours ago to you, they then appreciate what I call a secondary aspects of poly bat or table cricket because they think oh, little Jonny’s—he’s actually moving around to the next spot, he never takes his turn or do anything or focuses (08:52). And they then pick up these little secondary aspects.

Peter:

You as the teacher, do you pick up on that, do you recognize when another trainer or another adult in that situation is oh, I can see the added benefits of this, it’s not just about physically what’s happening in the activity right now, it’s the multiple other benefits derived from this.

Doug:

Yeah often—often teachers will go and share it with their classroom assistant or something and so they—he hasn’t done that before, has he? Yeah. They’ll share it with someone else and so there’s the self evidence, evidence for yourself, really, that you can pick up on. And of course, you go across (09:33) yourself in a situation and say yeah, we have a (09:35), you should try doing this or that and they go oh yes, we could, couldn’t we? Yeah.

Peter:

Because that would be a—one of the things—

Doug:

It’s a process kind of thing, of involvement, I think. And I did work, I came in university, the last 20 years at university, we’re into that thing that came out of Australia, by the way, action research.

Peter:

Action research, yes.

Doug:

See now, I think in recent years, we’ve gone from the didactic approach of Ken’s earlier approach and my approach at Frontierland, gone from the didactic approach into more of an action research process and I think it’s almost an action research induction process. Follow my?

Peter:

Nice, yeah.

Ken:

On a sport education approach.

Doug:

Yeah and I did an approach back with—oh years and years ago now, 30 years ago, and I call it item expiration. And you took into a classroom a whole lot of square carpet sample mats and you say to the kids, these are interesting, aren’t they? Do you want to play with them? And you’re letting them play with them for 15 minutes and see what they come up with. Very difficult for teachers to shut up and not do anything for 15 minutes, by the way. And the teacher has to sit down there and then after 15 minutes, you go in there and you hit them between the eyes with a more formal approach. Oh let’s everyone sit down and let’s pass the mat under our legs then. And then after awhile, the kids are going and doing all sorts of things.
So that’s a kind of action research learning process again that I did. And I used to do it with cardboard tubes, boxes and car inner tubes where everybody in the class had one item each then, called item expiration. So that was a kind of experience or approach. I was in special schools for learning impairments and physical challenges.

Ken:

Just—I wanted to ask, Doug, you know, obviously you were (11:37) Nottingham Uni and you developed this adapted physical activity program called Project Adapted which has subsequently, I guess, become dormant. But what do you think in terms of education in terms of teacher training is needed now in terms of inclusion because all of us have been involved in training student teachers or training undergraduates in various ways. But in terms of sowing some kind of permanent seed and establishing inclusive physical activity as a core subject, what’s your feelings on that?

Doug:

I think I do it two ways, if you could only have two sessions in each higher education place, two sessions, the first would be a kind of awareness and awakening session, like an awareness kind of thing, showing kids with impairments similar to everyone else da, da, da, a bit about the medical models and things like that but then come up with some real profile stories. And then the second session would be a practical workshop to say this is how these people can overcome some barriers sometimes, to have some access into physical activities. Now I’d only do those two sessions and that’s it because I think you’re not gonna get a toenail inside the higher education door now because they haven’t got enough time to do primary PE in that way.

And then you’d have to—it would then have to be a post-graduate or a post-professional kind of thing like we’re doing now with the workshops now. But I would do it about this socialization, you must become—you must know these youngsters more than you know any other kid in the school almost because you could be their mentor. You want to mentor. There’s great sportsmen around the world have succeeded or failed. You’ve got to look at (13:40), failure, (13:40), success and put a mentor with him. You want mentors with these youngsters and if they aren’t interested in that much a sport, they’ll come up with a person, also the teacher will get a real buzz out of this, they’re making a difference to somebody’s life, so we’re almost now at a humanistic process, really.

Peter:

Well Doug, we could talk all day, we have talked for quite awhile.

Doug:

And the car’s getting hotter.

Peter:

The car’s getting hotter as we continue so I’ll just say thanks very much, we really do appreciate your time and we’re going to be doing more work I’m sure, with you through Inclusion Club.

Doug:

Well thanks for that chance to meet up with you two disciples in the (14:22) around the world. Keep on with the good work and yeah, we’ll definitely get together in the future.

Peter:

Thanks, Doug.

Doug:

Cheers.