• Dundee West expands to include sessions with autistic children.
• They talk about the benefits of the Scottish FA Quality Mark.
• Interviews: Logan McConachie, Paul Gibson.
"What have you done with him? He doesn’t speak to his teachers, doesn’t speak to anyone at school, he’s never had a friend round."
One mother was left baffled by the development of her autistic son after just one hour of football training, after which he turned round and said, “Mum, I’ve got 10 friends!”
“He was chatting away and chatting away to me,” recounts Logan McConachie, a Club Development Officer at Dundee West FC, which has started to run one of the most exciting disability-related football courses in the country. “We’re working with the National Autistic Society, where we’re looking at creating an autistic football team, so an ASD specific football team.
“We had 72 at our first open day, which is a lot of participants for the first time which shows that there’s a huge demand for it. The National Autistic Society of Scotland have been really, really supportive,” he continued.
The progression in social skills is certainly one of the biggest benefits McConachie has seen in his year and a half in the post. “I think that sense of belonging for someone who’s had autism, ASD, is unbelievable for them because they’ve never had that sense of belonging before, they’ve been almost isolated.”
“It’s amazing that football is a shared ground, common ground, for them to come together, so it’s a great side of that. It’s mainly that social aspect that has been huge for a lot of them,” he added.
There are other benefits, says McConachie, which can be transferred off the pitch into learning skills. “You’ve seen behavioural changes. Thinking about someone who again wouldn’t communicate, wouldn’t really want to take part in things like that, their concentration, their listening skills, they’ve all improved drastically.”
As well as disability awareness, Dundee West are running various other programmes for other members of the community.
The football club has also been trying to teach the boys about real life matters, instead of just defending set-pieces. “We had a summer camp here last week, 50 kids turned up, and the coaches that were along there were doing a lot of nutritional stuff, being a good person, life experiences.”
It is hoped that this kind of service will benefit the community in the long run, as the kids grow up and continue to view their local area with a sense of pride. “We want the kids to come into Dundee West at a young age, five or six years old. We want them to basically feel a sense of belonging to this area, to these pitches, to this pavilion. We want them to look after the pavilion, have a wee home for them, and grow through Dundee West and basically want them to become good human beings. That’s our ultimate aim: to be good people,” coach Paul Gibson said.
The club is also hopeful that the Quality Mark award scheme will help them achieve this goal. Through the programme the club has also developed a strong relationship with the Scottish FA.
“I’m based in the Scottish FA office so I’ve got constant contact with all the development officers and all the regional team which is fantastic because it gives us first hand support so they can share it round with Dundee West, and with across the region,” McConachie said.
“We’ve currently got a ‘mini-kickers’ programme, starting at 18 months all the way up to 5 years old. We’re supporting the ‘Fun 4s’ a wee bit more as well, into the ‘Super 5s’ to try and help out with that, and just try and make the coaches that wee bit more educated, and to support them a wee bit more, and give them different kind of session plans so that they can work to develop that.”
“We’re just trying to get as many kids from this area playing football for Dundee West, and that’s the main aim. We’re now up to over 220 kids playing for Dundee West,” Gibson said.