Adaptive and Overcome

Author / Matt Spaid

5-7 min read

Coaches – it’s time to broaden your horizons. There is a strong need for good coaches in the adaptive athlete realm, but finding a coach familiar with the best methods for training an adaptive athlete can be arduous. These athletes need our help! The road to becoming an athlete of high caliber is already filled with obstacles, but those obstacles becomes exponentially taller for an athlete with adaptive needs. 

One of the roles of a coach is to create an environment where athletes can become the best versions of themselves; this is especially important for adaptive athletes. The only way to truly create an environment where your people can thrive, adaptive athlete or not, is by connecting with them – it is doubly important to connect with these adaptive athletes, to truly understand their limitations. Keep in mind, they are facing additional challenges outside of the typical realm, so it’s also important to stay patient.

Coaches should also get in the trenches and lead by example by guiding, teaching, and mentoring their athletes into better versions of themselves. Whether it’s skills and drills on the field, or sets and reps in the weight room, the coach is there to drive the athlete towards their goals, but also to pull back on the reins if they are going too hard in the paint. We’re all about destroying mediocrity and embracing the suck here at Power Athlete, however when it comes to coaching adaptive athletes, this task requires a delicate balance.  

Whether it’s due to a lack of knowledge, stigma, or false perceptions, there is a large population of athletes that are left to their own devices to create training plans for themselves to get a shot at reaching the same dream as your typical athletes. Let’s help them learn the true meaning of Eat The Weak, and switch their mindset to dominate their goals and improve their quality of life.

What Is An Adaptive Athlete

An adaptive athlete is anyone with a permanent impairment that causes a limitation which affects their work capacity. Impairment refers to one or more various physical or neurological conditions: stroke survivors, amputees, wheelchair users, or others with long-term ailments that prevent them from participating in ordinary sports. 

An adaptive athlete is not someone dealing with a temporary injury, even if it is severe. There must be a permanent physical, intellectual, or visual impairment. If the athlete is interested in competing in a sport, then they also must meet certain criteria for that particular sport and be evaluated by a professional before competing.

There are ten eligible impairment types in the paralympic sport: impaired muscle power, impaired passive range of motion, limb deficiency, leg length difference, short stature, hypertonia, ataxia, athetosis, vision impairment, or intellectual impairments. 

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To Complete, or Not to Complete?

If your athlete is not interested in competing in a sport, remember that it is completely fine! Not everyone wants to compete, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to pack on some slabs of muscle for fun. Many are simply looking to improve their health and quality of life. As a coach, it’s our job to help them achieve their goals, whatever they may be.

However, if they do want to compete, then we should be able to guide them to a sport that they will both be eligible for and will enjoy playing. There are a lot of classifications for adaptive athletes in the sports realm, so it’s best to do some research on what sports may be available for your athlete. You can find more information on the classifications from the International Paralympic Committee.

Once an athlete is determined to be eligible, they are evaluated to ascertain the best classification in their sport. Similar to age and weight classes, adaptive athletes are grouped by the degree of limitations due to their impairment. Some sports allow all ten impairments, while others are more specific. This helps minimize the chance that simply the least impaired athlete will win and ensures the integrity and credibility of the sport.

Know Limits to No Limits

As a coach in the adaptive athlete world, it will be vital to educate yourself on their limitations in order to not cause harm. “First, do no harm” isn’t just a rule for medical professionals, but it is for coaches as well. We don’t want to harm our athletes physically OR mentally.

It will be important to follow your training principles, but you may have to get creative and think outside the box. We still don’t want to limit an adaptive athlete’s performance by training the same planes of motion or movement patterns, even if they are limited to only using their arms or legs. This will lead to overload or overuse injuries, which could be even worse for an adaptive athlete. For instance, I have an adaptive athlete with the inability to use her arms. If I constantly overload her squat and never change the movement pattern or allow her to recover, then she will eventually injure her legs. Then, I have not only messed up her ability to train, but I have messed up her ability to function in everyday life. 

It is extremely important to gain trust and to be patient with adaptive athletes. Some of them were born with their limitations, while others may have had a traumatic accident. If they became an adaptive athlete later in life, then they have the challenge of relearning how to function, both in their day to day and the gym. Some adaptive athletes look perfectly fine on the outside, but may have a TBI (traumatic brain injury) that causes them to lose function on one side of their body. They may also have PTSD, or any other number of brain injuries that only present under certain circumstances.

There are a lot of things to keep in mind, but for the most part, be open, honest, and patient. 

Learn about your athlete. Teach them the importance of training principles and explain some of the “why” behind what you’re having them do. Lead by example, and become a mentor for them. Don’t try to come up with any gimmicks, and just stick to being brilliant in the basics.

We are in the business of forging hammers and empowering performance. Be the coach that helps these adaptive athletes by providing them with opportunities to improve their body awareness, skills, mental and physical toughness, and overall have a better quality of life by helping them improvise, adapt, and overcome.

Help them maximize their training potential with a 7-DAY FREE TRIAL of any of our programs and join Wheelchair Rugby League World Champion, James Simpson, and the legion of other athletes confronting obstacles who rely on Power Athlete’s programming to shatter their limits. Visit:

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Matt Spaid

Matt Spaid is a Firefighter, Strength Coach, and a Marine Corps Veteran. He began working in the fitness industry in 2012 as a CrossFit Coach. This experience led to training a wide variety of athletes while learning different aspects of health and wellness. He is a firm believer that in order to be healthy and strong, you must have a balanced approach through the body, mind, and spirit. This outlook led to embracing the Power Athlete Methodology and eventually becoming a Power Athlete Certified Coach.

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