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Connecting with yourself and each other through sport and physical activity

Help for Heroes' Sarah Hackett talks about the benefits keeping active offers to those struggling with mental and physical conditions and how they can help service men and women on their way to recovery.

26th December 2022

by Sarah Hackett
Head of sport, activity and fellowship, Help for Heroes

At Help for Heroes, we have long championed the role sport can play in the recovery journey of people with a physical or mental injury or illness.

And as the latest sport and physical activity sector surveys show, this mission is more important than ever.

This past summer, Activity Alliance, the national charity and leading voice for disabled people in sport and activity, published its latest Annual Disability and Activity Survey highlighting slow progress in engaging more disabled people after the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

According to this survey, disabled people are being left out as we return to activity and are feeling less encouraged to be active - this is despite eight in 10 wanting to be more so (compared to 51% of non-disabled people).

These inequalities are also exposed by Sport England’s last Active Lives Adults Survey.

Its findings prove that, while activity levels are starting to recover following large drops caused by the pandemic restrictions, activity is less common for disabled people or those with a long-term health condition (45%) than those without (66%).

Every day, an average of four men and women are medically discharged from the Armed Forces because of illness or injury. This can lead to social isolation and a loss of purpose in life.

For these men and women physical exercise is not just a means to recovery, it‘s about sport helping give those who have suffered injuries or illnesses something to aspire to.

Earlier this year, Help for Heroes re-launched its Front Line to Start Line performance sport transition programme for wounded athletes, from talent identification through to retirement from sport.

At Help for Heroes, we have long championed the role sport can play in the recovery journey of people with a physical or mental injury or illness.

For the past five Invictus Games, Help for Heroes has been responsible for training and delivering Team UK to the largest international adaptive sporting competition for disabled veterans.

The Games help shine a spotlight on those with a disability and demonstrate that sporting achievements are still possible. They also generate a wider understanding and respect for wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women.

But it's not just about the elite athletes, the ones who want to make the Paralympics or Invictus Games - though we have seen many of our veterans we support reach these heights.

Everyone has their own idea of success, their own idea of what a personal best looks like and this focus is crucial for a recovery journey.

No matter your injury, disability or illness, sport must be accessible to all, a vision shared with Sport England and its Uniting the Movement strategy to transform lives and communities through sport and physical activity.

Having fitness goals and aspirations, no matter how big or small, helps you rediscover your motivation and gives you a renewed sense of focus and purpose.

When somebody is first injured or becomes sick, it can be daunting and cause a real identity crisis.

It can be hard coming to terms with who you are and what you are able to achieve, but sport is an easily accessible way of providing something you can throw yourself into at whatever level.

It's about getting out, getting confidence back and that self-belief.

Two men are cycling up a hill and one of them is on an adapted bicycle.

Sport is also something which can be done with teammates, allowing somebody with a disability to be active and socialise with like-minded individuals.

For our veterans, it enables them to rediscover the camaraderie they enjoyed when they were part of the Armed Forces.

Sport services at Help for Heroes offer a broad range of activities out in the community and at all ability levels, from recreational to competitive, helping to maintain an active, healthy and independent life.

Our adaptive sports activities make sport inclusive and allow veterans and their families to reconnect with who they were before they were injured or sick.

This increases their confidence when they realise they need not be defined by their new circumstance, and that they can still do or play something they previously loved.

These activities are delivered day-by-day in communities across the four home nations. They help reduce social isolation, build connections in communities, and offer opportunities for veterans and their families to give back via volunteering. 

In collaboration with UK Coaching, we have also recently delivered a Coaching Academy, which gives veterans the chance to train for a sport coaching qualification and build on their skills in civilian life.

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