How to care for an athlete with a disability

On September 21st, Hexfit had the chance to discuss the management of clients with disabilities with Mélanie Béziat, teacher in adapted physical activity and physical trainer for the Stade Toulousain Rugby Handisport team. Here is our discussion: 

Accompanying a person with a disability in a sports context can be intimidating for a professional who has never worked with this type of clientele before. This article will provide you with new tools for your work and will help you to feel more confident about the disability.

Where to start? 

When people hear the word disability, they usually think of a motor impairment such as quadriplegia. However, quadriplegics or wheelchair users represent only 3% of people with disabilities. Therefore, the first step is to define the type of disability.


How can we categorize the different types of disabilities for sports coaching?

  • Motor disability: total or partial physical impairment
  • Sensory disability: deafness, blindness, visual impairment, etc.
  • Psychological disability: personality disorders, mood disorders, etc.
  • Mental disability: intellectual disability

All of these types of disabilities may need to be accommodated during the physical activity. The principle is simple: adapt to your client's disability. If the athlete is hard of hearing, you obviously won't explain the program verbally. In this case, simply find a suitable way for you and your client to communicate, such as a visual aid.

Similarly, if your client is blind, you won't show them how to use certain equipment by using it in front of them. Simply use verbal or sensory means to assist him.

Obviously, in a sporting context, it would be unfair to pair an opponent with mild deafness with an opponent with quadriplegia. Therefore, the chances of all participants should be balanced as much as possible.

Joueurs de Rugby au Stade Toulousain Handisport

How to undertake sport and competition with a disability?

First of all, the level of disability of each person must be evaluated and classified according to the classification method in place in your country. For example, in swimming, in the 100m freestyle final, there are 11 finals and therefore 11 categories according to the types of disabilities. This classification principle allows to equalize the athletes' chances.

The athlete's goal must inevitably be established. If the athlete is aiming for a high level sport such as the Special Olympics (or Paralympics), the support will have to be done in such a way that he or she has all the tools or teammates necessary to reach his or her goal. On the other hand, if the athlete wants to practice a recreational sport, you can support him/her, for example, by adding an extra handicap to his/her teammates. The best example of this method would be athletes who play their sports in a wheelchair, but have no motor disability. 

"When we [people without disabilities] serve as sparring partners, [...] we put on gloves and tape our hand flat so we can't use our hand normally."

Mélanie Béziat

Adapted physical activity teacher and physical trainer

What are the best practices and mistakes to avoid when dealing with an athlete with a disability?


1     Don't be afraid to make mistakes!

The first step is simply to find the right exercise for your client. However, every disability is different and it is impossible to find the right exercises without trying them. Even if your client has not succeeded in an exercise, he or she is already more advanced than when he or she started with you because you know his or her abilities better as a result of your trials.

2     Don't sell him a dream!

It is useless, even harmful, to set unattainable goals such as the elimination of the disability. Contrary to the traditional approach where you work on what works least well on the body, in the case of a client with a disability, work instead on what is not affected by the disability. Once your client has done exercises that are appropriate for their abilities, you can find the flaws and begin to work on their weaknesses.

3     Do not project yourself into your client!

When a client with a disability seeks the services of a sports coach, trainer, physiotherapist, physical trainer or even a kinesiologist, the goal is not necessarily rehabilitation. Although this is sometimes what you want, your vision of disability is not important in assisting your client. Your client knows his or her situation better than anyone else and is in the best position to answer your questions. Build on their abilities and detach from your own. This individualized plan avoids failure, which often leads to psychological trauma in the case of a person who has had an accident and who may believe that this failure is caused by him or herself, when in fact it is caused by the lack of competence of the professional.


"Disability takes up too much space in the minds of professionals in an encounter. In fact, let's take away the fact that the person has a disability, let's just ask what their limitations are, what their successes are, what their failures are, [...] what their issues are, who they are as a person and let's individualize [that person]. Maybe we put too much weight on that particular element."

Étienne Dubois

Founder of Hexfit

4     Use the right tools!

You will have a lot of information to consider when dealing with a client with a disability and training load monitoring will need to be adapted. You can find all the information you need to track training loads here:

Centralizing this information will allow you to ensure a better follow-up and if you have to go away, you will have peace of mind since you will know that the work you have done is available to other professionals and that the history of all actions is available.

Capture d'écran du logiciel Hexfit


The Hexfit software also allows you to share information between professionals. In other words, your client's physician will be able to see all of their data and will be able to give you the information needed to support them directly in the application.



Of course, the exercises will have to be adapted and thanks to Hexfit's database of over 10,000 exercises, your client will have access to clear explanations in the event that you are absent.

Logiciel Hexfit

Is performance an achievable
achievable for an athlete with a disability?
athlete with a disability?


Performance is undoubtedly attainable for an athlete with a disability. Just like you, the athlete needs tools and an adapted and individualized follow-up to perform. 

Melanie has coached three rugby athletes who represented France at the Tokyo 2020 adapted Olympic Games. 

Portrait de Mathieu Thiriet, athlète paralympique en rugby

Mathieu Thiriet
Wheelchair rugby athlete at the
Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games

How do we individualize the athlete's experience?

Ask the right questions, at the right time. Asking a person with a disability what accident he or she had the first time you meet is a huge faux pas. It's a very personal question, and that disability does not define them as a person. Whether it is a birth disability or a skiing accident, the disability is the same and the cause is of little importance. If your client wants to discuss it, he will address the issue himself.

Dealing with a client who has recently had an accident or a client who has been disabled since birth will be extremely different. Here are some questions that will help you better understand your client:

  1. What is his or her general state of health?
  2. What is his or her general level of independence?
  3. Does he/she have easy access to transportation?
  4. What is his or her history of disability? Is it a birth disability? Is it a degenerative disability?
  5. What is the status of the disability?
  6. Has he/she accepted it?

A simple conversation will allow you to understand his or her daily situation. If this person does not have any help in their daily life, this could explain a certain state of fatigue. When you have a global vision of your client, you will be able to better define the path to take to reach their goal.


In conclusion, don't be afraid to do the wrong thing. Take an interest in your client and ask the right questions in order to be comfortable with his or her situation and, above all, to build a bond of trust with the client.

Camille Boutin

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