By Sarah Juggins with support from the Pan American Hockey Federation
At the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games, hockey's ‘Equally Amazing’ values will be highlighted by the Lionas ParaHockey teams who will take to the main competition field in the Youth Olympic Park for an exhibition of match on 13 October.
This discipline is played by athletes who have intellectual impairments but the rules are exactly the same for ParaHockey as for the other recognised disciplines. They will be joined by some surprise guests on they day who will help them showcase their skills to the fans taking in the Semi-Finals of the Hockey5s events.
The arrival of ParaHockey in Argentina is a relatively new phenomenon. It was introduced just over a year ago to a group of 12 girls with intellectual disabilities. That group has now extended to 37 and there are other clubs developing in the hockey strongholds of Mendoza, Cordoba and Salta.
The Pan American Hockey Federation (PAHF) has a dedicated Programme Officer for ParaHockey, Silvina Gorrisen, and she says that numerous coaches and players are getting on board, with a pool of 25 people available to run coaching sessions or manage teams.
Standing on the sideline of a hockey pitch in Argentina, one of the many coaches who dedicate their time to developing the skills – physical and social – for a group of youngsters known as 'Las Leanas', said: "I’m surprised every day, the skills are so impressive.” Indeed, these players are every bit as serious about their hockey as the likes of Argentinian superstars Delfina Merino, Noel Barrionuevo and co.
These youngsters are being drawn to hockey because of the fun, enjoyment and inclusive atmosphere it offers. And, with the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires under a month away, the spotlight is set to be turned more fully onto how ParaHockey is growing in Argentina.
Already played by thousands of people around the world, ParaHockey is getting a strong foothold in the hockey loving nation as more and more clubs in Argentina are joining the movement to make hockey as inclusive as possible.
At one training session more than 30 young people dribbled around cones, shot into goal and played small-sided games under the watchful eye of the coaches running the sessions. “I just love the sport so much,” said one young girl as she took a break from training.
Creating an inclusive environment within hockey for people with intellectual impairments is part of a wider movement to integrate people with disabilities as much as possible into everyday life. Sports such as hockey provide a range of benefits, including promoting healthy lifestyles, social contacts, self-confidence and independence and, of course, fun.
Such development programmes are great examples of National Associations engaging with the International Hockey Federation's Hockey Revolution strategy. With an aim of making hockey a global game that inspires future generations, Argentina's development of ParaHockey is an example of positive progress being made in the Pan American continent.
To keep up with all the news of the PAHF ParaHockey initiative visit their Facebook page.