Adaptive sports in Magnitogorsk: from the project idea to a large development center for children with disabilities

In June 2023, the project "Sport on an Equal Basis for All" of the Metallurg Charitable Foundation, implemented with the support of the CSS Foundation, came to an end. The project systematically involved children with mental disabilities in skiing, roller skating, trampolining, and adaptive physical education in order to overcome difficulties in their physical and social development.

Metallurg is a charitable foundation under the local municipal enterprise - the Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works. The purpose of the foundation is to provide systematic support to groups of people in need, including former and current employees of the company and their families.

Despite its thirty-year history, the project of adaptive sports for mentally handicapped children was new to Metallurg. But it wasn't spontaneous.

"Since 2019, our Foundation has been permanently working on a project aimed at the social and domestic, socio-cultural and socio-medical habilitation of children with disabilities. The deeper we delved into the problems and peculiarities of the development of children with disabilities, the more we realized that to achieve results, we need to add sport to psychological and pedagogical activities. Only such a tandem will lead our beneficiaries to sustainable, meaningful changes" - says Bibigul Arslambayeva, Senior Manager of the Development and Design Department of the Foundation. "However, the Foundation did not have the budget for such courses. When we saw information about the 'Stronger with CSS. Sport for Development', we decided to take part and we are happy that we won".

The support from CSS became the impetus for the creation of the project and the starting point for the development of adaptive sports in the city.

"Thanks to the CSS grant, we were able to involve not only children with special needs whose parents work at our metallurgical factory, but also children from other families, residents of our town, for whom such classes are recommended and necessary. In total, 28 children took part in the project".

Winning the CSS competition made it possible to pay for the work of coaches who conducted group and individual lessons in alpine skiing, roller skating, adaptive physical education, classes in the trampoline center, as well as purchase equipment and supplies.

There was no illusion that it would be easy. Therefore, in order to immediately take a high level in their work, to be confident in their actions, to conduct training in accordance with the latest recommendations of leading experts - instructor Natalia Atapina took a qualification course on the program of adaptive physical education in the Russian top profile institution - the National State University of Physical Culture, Sport and Health named after P. F. Lesgaft.

"Children with such diseases as autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, delayed speech development, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, usually have comorbidities. During the course I learned in detail the peculiarities of skills diagnostics that should be considered when creating an individual training program. The knowledge about alternative communication was very useful. For example, there were children in the group who did not speak at all, and thanks to the training I immediately knew how to start a dialog with them," says Natalia Atapina. 

"And it is also invaluable that during the course I built a partnership with the lecturers of Lesgaft University, the best experts in the country in the field of adaptive physical education. And now we discuss difficult cases, share useful resources, and meet when necessary."

The best results in such projects can be achieved only through joint interaction between coach, child and parents. That is why the project held parent meetings, created a supportive chat room, and explained to adults in detail how regular exercise affects children's condition. Parents were given exercise recommendations, and each child was provided with individual sets of sports equipment for independent exercise at home.

"Over the course of the project, we formed 28 small friendly teams. Each team consisted of a parent, a child and a coach who gave their best. At the end of the project, we were very satisfied. For example, some of the participants have started to take part in city competitions and even won them. For example, Danya P. (12 years old, autism) started alpine skiing for the first time at the beginning of the 2022 season. He practiced with great interest and enthusiasm. And at the end of the season, he took the 1st place in the city competitions" - says Natalia Ivanovna.

By the way, alpine skiing and roller sports are not chosen by chance. In Magnitogorsk there is a quality sports base for lessons, and qualified instructors who are able to work with children with mental peculiarities.This is why, after the end of the project, everyone who wants can continue teaching with competent supervision.

Before CSS arrived in Magnitogorsk, adaptive sports were practically non-existent here. In the city there was only one social rehabilitation center for children and adolescents with HIA, where a child could attend a rehabilitation course once a year. It is impossible to provide quality help to needy children on such a regular basis and, according to the organization, there are only more than 150 of them in Magnitogorsk.

Now a new project of the Metallurg Foundation, which is already being implemented without CSS support, is in full swing - the creation of a center for children with special disabilities and needs. The center will combine psychological, pedagogical, and sports areas of the Foundation's work aimed at preparing children from vulnerable groups for a fulfilled, independent life. The center is scheduled to open in early 2024.

“The project ‘Sport Equal to All’ illustrates the exceptional importance of supporting social initiatives at the beginning of the journey. Thanks to the financial support of CSS, the team of the Metallurg Foundation was able to start the development of the project at a high level and to demonstrate the importance and demand for social sports for children with disabilities to various target groups: parents, citizens and potential sponsors. As a result, the project received a large-scale continuation! We wish the Foundation every success and look forward to receiving applications for future CSS competitions", concludes Olga Suslova, President of CSS Charitable Foundation.