Able Field Hockey, Inclusive Hockey for Athletes of All Abilities
by USA Field Hockey
On January 21, 2023, Able Field Hockey, a subdivision Able Athletics, held its inaugural session in the town of Somers, N.Y., located in Westchester County. This session was a Discover Field Hockey event sponsored by USA Field Hockey. Coaches and athletes from Somers, Yorktown Heights, Scarsdale, Lakeland, Panas, Brewster, Irvington, Pleasantville, New Fairfield, Katonah, Chappaqua, and Bedford supported Able Athletics and their mission to bring inclusive field hockey programming to individuals of all abilities.
Able Athletics is a not-for-profit organization that was founded in 2021 by brothers, Rowan and Christian Dias who were inspired by their younger sister who has developmental differences. The Able Athletics mission is to create a movement of inclusion in the sports community by providing access for those who typically cannot participate in mainstream programming. From small, one-on-one sessions in their backyard to larger organized group training, the movement of inclusion in sports continues to grow. An integral part of all sports programming is the collaboration with the Able Athletics team of therapy professionals to develop an adaptive curriculum for all abilities. The goal is to integrate the fundamentals of each sport with modifications aimed to make all participants feel successful. The team of therapists includes Dr. Erica Maiorano and Ms. Allison Quincoses of All Day Development.
With the guidance and support from Dr. Maiorano, a school and community based physical therapist, and Ms. Quincoses, a school based occupational therapist, thoughtful modifications were made to the sport of field hockey including the use of adaptive equipment based on the individual challenges each athlete faces. Dr. Maiorano and Ms. Quincoses assist in facilitating the sessions, providing support for not only the Able athletes, but to the volunteers working one-on-one with the athletes.
“We’ve been so happy to be a part of the Able Field Hockey and Able Lacrosse programs,” said Emma and Todd Spano, parents of an Able Athlete. “When our son started with Able Lacrosse last year we saw him gain confidence immediately after working with his mentors. Our son has had a great interest in sports since a young age but hasn’t been able to participate. We are thrilled that he now has this opportunity. The high school mentors who dedicate their time every weekend are amazing, inspiring young adults. We are grateful to the mentors and all the people that make this amazing program happen.”
This past October, thirteen Able Field Hockey athletes participated in an indoor clinic that focused on learning the foundational skills of the sport with the use of equipment generously donated by USA Field Hockey and the support of field hockey athlete volunteers from the surrounding towns.
The session was led by Melissa Ponzio, Director of Able Field Hockey, a physical education teacher and the head of Somers’ Youth Sports Organization Division of Field Hockey. Ponzio is in a unique position as she brings not only her professional knowledge of curriculum development to Able Field Hockey’s programming, but also her personal experience of raising a child with special needs.
The understanding and respect of the differences between a neurotypical child and a child with developmental disabilities or learning differences is key to providing programming in a supportive and inclusive environment. Allowing the children to be who they are and honoring their differences in a way that makes not only them, but their parents feel understood and accepted, provides immeasurable value to the opportunities provided by Able Athletics programming.
With a modified approach and support from coaches and volunteers, Able athletes excel by showing their athleticism in a way that positively surprises not only them but their parents as well. Able athletes with particular physical challenges require more fundamental tactics to remain engaged. In each circumstance, Able athletes are allowed to be themselves in an environment where they are not only accepted but celebrated.
A typical modified session begins even before the athletes arrive. Volunteers are briefed on the curriculum for the day, any specific challenges their assigned athlete may have and how to best support them. Once the athletes arrive, the session parallel’s mainstream programming with modifications made to encourage focus, participation and success.
Techniques to eliminate distractions are implemented while verbal and visual demonstrations of the lessons are taught by the coach and supporting volunteers. Athletes and their paired volunteers work on skills in a small group or one-on-one approach, ensuring adequate support allowing each athlete to work at their own pace rather than feeling the pressure of trying to “keep up” with a group. Skill development analogous to mainstream curriculum comprise the 45-minute session, including passing to bowling pins, dribbling through an obstacle course, and everyone's favorite, shooting on the goalkeepers.
In addition to learning field hockey skills, volunteers and athletes create special friendships and bonds that otherwise may not occur outside of the sessions. The connections that form between them provides meaningful, mutual impact that is evident to any observer - that is the beauty of inclusion. Inclusion provides a synergetic relationship that not only helps those that typically feel excluded to feel included but brings awareness to the volunteers of the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities and in turn value and acceptance.
Onboarding education for volunteers to brief them on “what to expect” and “how to talk to” and “about” individuals with differences is mandatory. It is Able Athletics’ mission to promote understanding and respect for individuals with developmental differences. In the end, it’s a “win-win”. Able Field Hockey not only provides opportunities for families, but by engaging the youth through these incredible volunteering experiences, are allowing them to make a lasting impact and create a better, more inclusive world.
The success of Able Field Hockey and Able Athletics is wholly due to the trust of the special needs community and the dedication and support of the sporting community. What makes Able Field Hockey unique is that they include the knowledge and expertise from high school athletes, high school and youth coaches, physical education teachers, special education teachers, professional therapists, and beyond.
In her position of director of Able Field Hockey, Ponzio is supported by Vanessa Choate-Dias (Chief Officer of Able Athletics, and mom to an Able athlete), Allison Quincoses (Co-Director of Curricular Adaptations for Able Athletics, and school based Occupational Therapist), and Dr. Erica Maiorano (Co-Director of Curricular Adaptations for Able Athletics, and school based Physical Therapist).
Able Field Hockey is motivated and excited to share their passion for field hockey as they continue to provide sporting opportunities for athletes who require modifications or adaptations with and without learning or physical differences. Inclusive field hockey programming is set to commence January of 2023 in Somers, N.Y., and it is just the beginning of our movement for inclusion in the great sport of field hockey.
USA Field Hockey believes field hockey is a sport for all, a sport for life, and strives to make it more accessible and inclusive. If you are interested in starting a ParaHockey or All Starz Field Hockey program in your community, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for support.