Coventry University football ‘living lab’ for children with cerebral palsy hailed as ‘wonderful’ as families visit from across UK

Children playing football in a sports hall with Coventry University staff chasing them while holding foam javelins

Children taking part in Coventry University's football 'living lab' for youngsters with cerebral palsy

Research news

Thursday 22 February 2024

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Families from as far away as Hull travelled to Coventry University to take part in a special ‘living lab’ football event for children with cerebral palsy.

The event, which was free and open to children aged between five and 11, built on the success of the university’s first ‘living lab’ football camp held last summer alongside junior football club Ambleside, which is based in Nuneaton. It was recognised by CP Sport and Birmingham County FA who both supported the most recent event which took place during February half-term at Coventry University Sports Centre.

Word has already spread with families from places such as Hull and Cheltenham coming to the city to take part in the research which sees the children take part in sports science experiments not only as participants, but also given the chance to play the role of scientists as they learned how the Living Lab works and how they contribute to the research.

Rachel Guthrie is the secretary of Ambleside JFC where Will Pattison, the Coventry University PhD student behind the labs, is a coach and it was her little boy Louie, now seven, who was the inspiration for the project.

After my son Louie was born he was pretty quickly diagnosed with cerebral palsy and eventually something clicked and I thought actually he can’t play football with his normal age group, so he just didn’t play football. Being in my position I thought I should be able to make that happen.

After conversations with Will and the other coaches it was like ‘right let’s get something off the ground’ as there is just nothing in the area unless it’s a very long journey.

As a parent to be able to watch him running around with other children with the same abilities – even with his frame as if it’s not there – it’s just wonderful. For him to be comfortable in the environment and to get to know other kids with cerebral palsy too, and for him to come and get a drink and then run off again, I just love it.

Rachel Guthrie, Secretary of Ambleside JFC

I’m looking at an approach to coaching which involves play-based games and we’ve had theme-based games in which they take on roles as superheroes or their favourite character from a TV show.

We’ve had parents and families come from far and wide to be here, as well as local families, and we’ve tried to give them something in the summer and now for the children to get involved in and they seem to really enjoy it. They are embracing the fact is a little bit more exploratory behaviour and they find their own solutions to whatever they are playing and are really buying in to it.

Will Pattison, PhD student at the Research Centre for Physical Activity, Sport and Exercise Sciences

Will says parents are already asking when they will be hosting the labs again and he hopes to refine a more “sustainable” approach that can become a more permanent schedule on the calendar.

We know children with cerebral palsy are a group that are under-served in football and more broadly, so they don’t usually get the opportunities that you would get with typically developing children to engage in physical activity.

We’re seeing lots of positive engagement, lots of fun and enjoyment, and we’re focusing on physical literacy which is if we can help children to become competent in their movement skills and confident, then they go on and will enjoy physical activity and be motivated to do it.

Professor Michael Duncan, Centre Director of the Research Centre for Physical Activity, Sport and Exercise Sciences

Find out more about Coventry University’s Research Centre for Physical Activity, Sport and Exercise Sciences.