Shinfield Rangers Football Club have been a BOBiCats Disability Football Centre since the programme began in 2018.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Berks & Bucks FA initiative, it was designed to inspire boys and girls aged 5-8 with any disability to get involved in football. BOBiCats Football Centres provide a high quality and enjoyable introduction to football as a first step into what we hope with be a lifelong passion for the sport.
The initiative aims to inspire children to engage with football, meet new friends, develop fundamental skills, learn new things, and create the foundation for a lifelong love of football.
For Shinfield Rangers, one of our original centres, their session is still providing regular disability football for young children.
As a club, they had previously expressed an interest in providing disability football, but it proved difficult to get it up and running on their own. It wasn't until the BOBiCats programme was launched by Berks & Bucks FA that the club felt ready to move forward. Club Chair, Raymond Barclay explained why the club wanted to get involved: "Many people at the club had disabled family members so we’d felt for some time that there was a need for clubs to run sessions for disabled children.
"Lots of things held us back initially, such as us not knowing what would be needed in terms of facilities and equipment to run the sessions safely. We worried about how we’d attract disabled players, what impairments we’d encounter and how we’d cope with sessions that included players with a wide range of disabilities. We also held back because traditional disability football starts at Under 12s, with other teams as U16s, both of which seemed like a challenge and not natural compared to mainstream football where we start supporting children from the age of four."
Several things changed for the club that helped them make the final decision to move into providing disability football. The main thing being the establishment of the BOBiCats programme. Designed for children aged 5-8 years-old, the programme aligned with the clubs’ initial hopes of starting provision for a younger age group but it also fit naturally alongside the clubs existing mini-kickers sessions which a number of club members had experience of running providing a good foundation for the club to build from.
"BOBiCats is now the best thing we’ve ever done as a Club. Berks & Bucks FA have been brilliant in supporting us in several ways, including helping us build our confidence, promptly answering questions, pointing us to Reading FC for mentoring support, providing financial support, training balls and session plans. As well as helping us get started they followed up with continued support during and beyond the initial ten-week BOBiCats session programme. That support, and from local disability groups and attending the FA’s Coaching Disabled Footballer’s course helped us greatly."
As Raymond mentioned above, the initial BOBiCats programme length was for a minimum of 10 sessions, however, given the success and popularity of the sessions, the club continued to run them following the programme, with Ray crediting the benefits the sessions had on all involved as a key reason for choosing to not only continue them, but to increase their regularity, he explains: "We knew there was a demand for disability football sessions for younger children but we were somewhat taken aback by how successful and popular BOBiCats turned out to be, right from the very first session - it was really rewarding for us as coaches because the children just loved the BOBiCats sessions, which were the highlight of the week for many of them.
"We saw big improvements in each of the children who participated, and we also saw that the parents benefited a lot too from seeing their children getting together and working with others. With differing disabilities many of the group progressed at different rates which made the 10 weeks seem too short for them to really get the most out of it. With there being so many happy faces among the children, their parents, and the coaches, we decided to carry on for a few more weeks. With everyone improving and getting even keener, we extended the sessions to include a couple of months over the autumn, before switching to monthly sessions indoors to keep things going over winter."
Despite any initial concerns around whether they would be able to provide disability football, Shinfield Rangers have had great success with their BOBiCats Centre and typically will have between 15-18 children at each session which Raymond went on to explain in more detail: "Our sessions are very similar to the ones we run for mini-kickers and Wildcats.
“They’re fun-based activities involving a ball and a creative or imaginative approach where cones can be volcanoes, or the children are fish, cops & robbers, or spacemen etc. These are followed with the inevitable match at the end and most of the children participate in these activities. Some children have learning disabilities or confidence problems that prevent them engaging with the main group, so we work with them on a 1-to-1 basis with the aim of gently integrating them into the group. Other children who may require more support during sessions are also supported by their parent which we’ve often seen benefit the parent just as much as the child."
Shinfield Rangers have had great success with implementing a disability football provision at their club and, despite not being sure of how to start or how to proceed, went on to win both Club and Project of the Year Awards at the annual Berks & Bucks FA Grassroots Football Awards and were previously nominated for a Get Berkshire Active Award too.
Looking back on that uncertain time, knowing what they know now, what would they say to clubs in a similar position of wanting to provide disability football but not knowing how to proceed?
“We are really, really proud to have even been considered for the Awards, which have had a hugely positive effect on everyone and everything in our Club over the past few months.” said Raymond. He continued; “The biggest reward, for those of us who run the Club, is to see all the happy smiling faces every week - particularly since we got involved in disability football sessions that have opened the door to so many children that would otherwise have been excluded.
For those that are holding back or unsure, it’s easier than you think and more rewarding than you can imagine. It will help to talk it through with another BOBiCats centre and to go on the England Football, Disability Football Introduction course. I would also recommend taking advantage of the support that’s available from Berks & Bucks FA and from outside of football. Contact disability support groups, schools and similar organisations like Get Berkshire Active. Let them know when and where you plan to run your sessions and they will help you find more participants.”
For more information about Disability Football opportunities across Berks & Bucks, please contact our Football Development Officer, Rod Noble via email or call 01235544890 for a discussion.