People volunteer or accept paid positions as leaders for a variety of reasons ranging from wanting to enable others to attend sport and active recreation programs, wanting to go away with other leaders or meeting the practical requirements of a course they are doing. Whatever the reason for becoming a leader, the most important consideration is that of having the right attitude – that of assisting a person with a disability to have a great experience that will enable them to grow and develop to their own potential. The leader is there to engage with the participants.
Effective leaders have a balance of respect, authority and healthy attitude to working with people with disabilities. This provides them with an integrity that is recognized by the participants. Participants will know that leaders are reliable and trustworthy and this helps them to feel comfortable, knowing they will be well cared for.
Leaders have a range of leadership skills and qualities that enable them to work effectively with people with disabilities in a sport and recreation situation. Many of the skills can be developed through training sessions and while being involved in sport and recreation programs.
Being a leader requires the following qualities:
- a willingness to learn;
- a sense of cooperation;
- consistent behaviour;
- definitely a sense of humour;
- a willingness to accept responsibility;
- reliability; and
It is important for a leader to be comfortable with him/herself as a person, recognizing strengths and limitations and the potential for growth and development.
A leader is there for the participant’s benefit. This means the leader foregoes a range of things they may personally enjoy, to be with the participant, assisting them with their needs and ensuring their maximum participation.
Willingness to learn
The experience provides an opportunity to learn new skills ranging from group facilitation to sport and recreation skills. A leader needs to be prepared to take on these new challenges.
Working with other leaders may not always be easy. The leader cooperates with peers and colleagues and supports group decisions. There is no place for leaders who will only support the decisions that personally suit them.
Sense of humour
The leader must have a good sense of humour and be able to see things in perspective from another’s point of view. They need to be able to laugh when the going gets a little tough.
The volunteer as a friend but also leader
The interaction between the leader and participant can occur on a number of levels. They can become good friends but the friendship must not interfere with leadership responsibilities. The responsibility to the participant and the rest of the group is more important.
Participants can exert pressures on a leader they consider to be a friend. This does not sway the good leader if it is going to interfere with their judgment in carrying out their role and responsibilities. To be respected as a firm and consistent leader is more important than being seen as a friend.
Leaders interacting together
Leaders often meet new people and form new friendships that continue following their involvement in the sport and active recreation program. It is common for friends to want to spend time together to share this friendship. It is important that this does not interfere with the responsibilities of a leader to the participant or to the group as a whole. It is great to be able to recognize this friendship and acknowledge it, but behaviours that may occur as a result of it should not interfere with our responsibilities. Life is long and friendships developed through sport and active recreation programs can be continued long after the experience is over.
Friendships should not stand in the way of interacting with all leaders or working as a team. A small group of leaders who are friends and share things to the exclusion of other leaders can fragment a team. It is important while on camp or during a sport and active recreation program that each leader makes every possible effort to interact with other leaders on an equal basis to ensure a cohesive team effort.
Recognizing the need for time-out
Sport and active recreation programs, especially camps are busy, energetic places. There is a lot to do with people continually wanting to do exciting things and take the fullest advantage of the environment. This can be demanding and it is only natural that we may feel tired, sometimes exhausted, particularly when participating inactivities that we are not used to. The responsibility we have for our one-to-one who has a disability can also be stressful, particularly with constant contact. The responsibility of working with other leaders constantly can also be emotionally demanding. It is important to recognize this and to take steps to deal effectively with fatigue and stress.
An understanding of how things affect you and accepting the fact that you have need of relaxation, rest and time to yourself is important. This enables you to communicate with others and arrange time-out.
Leaders who continue energetically to try to meet everyone’s needs often get to a point of exhaustion that will require them to drop out with no warning. This is not constructive for the leader or for the group as a whole. It is important to pace yourself and take rest-time. Fatigue can also affect our temperament. When we are at camp particularly we are with the same people twenty-four hours a day, and the pressures of constant contact can become intense. Be prepared and make sure that you do things that will minimize any negative side effects of these pressures.
Get what rest you can. Camps again are great for sitting up late with fellow leaders and sharing experiences. They also provide a good opportunity to relax after the participants have gone to bed. It is an important time of the day when leaders often discuss the day’s events and prepare for the next day, but be sensible about bedtime. Late nights, excessive food, drink and stimulation may distract you from the rest you need to function effectively.
Understand your physical needs and arrange for them to be met. Things can get a little heavy at times for anyone on programs. Know when you need a break and talk to the group coordinator to arrange this.
Talk to other leaders about your pressures and frustrations
Camps or sport and active recreation programs can be lonely places if you do not share with your colleagues. If you are concerned or feeling pressured about a situation, talk to a colleague: they may have experienced these feelings in the past and be able to offer useful suggestions for dealing with them.
Contribute to leaders’ meetings
Discuss with leaders your reactions and concerns at the end of the day. You will be surprised how they will identify with what you are saying. Your contributions may alert the team to situations that they were not aware of and should know for the smooth conduct of the program.
Make sure that you eat well and drink sufficient fluids
When assisting participants we may overlook our needs for nourishment. Meals for a leader can be disruptive and sometimes taken while on the go. It is important that you assist to establish an environment in which participants and leaders alike have the opportunity for uninterrupted meal breaks and that sufficient food and drink is consumed. Leaders who constantly sacrifice their meal times for the good of participants often find that they are not able to meet their commitments as the program progresses.
Pace yourself, especially on sport and recreation
Programs often involve a whole range of physical activities and challenges: combine this with responsibilities and stresses and you can very quickly wear yourself down. Understand your limitations and work within what is reasonable for you. Strategies such as extra sleep, more food and personal exercise or relaxation activities may help you to cope effectively with the demands of a rigorous program.
Participate in a range of activities
Some leaders take their responsibilities very seriously – so seriously that they prevent themselves from participating in the full range of experiences that the program has to offer. At times some participants may choose not to participate in a certain activity, or it maybe valid for them to watch others instead. This should not prevent the leader from participating in group activities themselves, as long as the participant is supervised.
It is important that the leader enjoys the range of activities and is seen to enjoy them by the participants. The leader who takes their responsibilities too seriously often detracts from the spirit of the program and often, without realizing it, denies a participant the freedom to independently make decisions and learn through experience, whether it be positive or negative.