A Northern Ireland hockey club is trying to improve opportunities for young people with disablities to take up the sport.
NI Civil Service Hockey Club is seeking to address the absence of disabled provision for hockey and last year launched a pilot coaching programme for 11 to 18 year olds with learning and minor physical disabilities last May.
The club which is based at Stormont is now hoping to boost numbers ahead of the free eight-week programme’s return in May and June.
Irene Carroll, who has been a member of the club since 2002 and involved in coaching for over 10 years said: “Last year was the pilot. We were the only ones in Northern Ireland to do it.
“One of our members – Nyree Scott – had been involved with disability football and thought, actually there are no facilities available with hockey for children in Northern Ireland with learning difficulties or children who don’t feel confident or able to participate in mainstream hockey.
“There are quite a lot of other sports that have opportunities for people with disabilities to get involved, but with hockey there is a big gap there.”
On the Disability Sports NI website, there are listings for disabled opportunities with 23 different types of sports in Northern Ireland. Although field hockey is not among those sports, a modified version of the game – sledge hockey – is available at The Rink in Portadown.
Asked how the sport is adapted she said: “We are catering for learning disabilities including Autism, Downs Syndrome, ADHD, ADD and Aspergers Syndrome as well as some slight physical disabilities and vision disabilities.
“We have bigger and brighter balls and because we can give more personal coaching people can develop at their own rate. A large part of it is about building confidence. Hockey is a very fast sport and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.”
She added: “It is hoped that our club could lead the way in developing the inclusion of people with disabilities in hockey throughout NI by inspiring other clubs to offer similar opportunities.”
The east Belfast club have received a financial boost from Belfast City Council to help fund this year’s programme.
Of her chosen sport Irene said: “Hockey as a sport does suffer because it’s not as widely televised as the likes of football, rugby and boxing. It’s only really the Olympics when you get decent coverage.
“But it remains a big, big sport, especially in Northern Ireland. If you look at the tables in Ulster Hockey there are about 12 or 13 leagues that cater for female hockey. Males are slightly less.
“Youth hockey is massive. The numbers taking part have soared in last few years, that will hopefully feed through into senior hockey.”
• The free eight week coaching programme for young people with learning difficulties and minor physical disabilities runs on Wednesdays from 7pm to 8.30pm from May 2 to June 20 at Stormont Pavilion.