Senior national hockey player Akeem Rudder wants to see inclusive sports and is on a mission to assist others particularly those with special needs through his most recent brainchild called IncludeU Sports Academy.
Rudder has represented Barbados at all levels in hockey and revealed that sports has done a lot for him. It is through his newly launched academy that he intends to give back.
“Sports has done everything for me. It brought me scholarships, it got me to travel, I have seen the world and I understand what sports can do for a person. This is what I am trying to help others to see and experience,” Rudder said.
During a telephone interview with Barbados TODAY, Rudder, a University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus graduate, said the idea for the academy started through one of his Sports Science degree courses called Sport and International Development.
“Back in University I was doing my degree in Sports Science and for one of my courses called Sport and International Development, we had to create a program for a vulnerable community.
“I decided to do para hockey which is hockey for persons with disabilities. When I got to do my research, I found out that it was a real thing. It was a big thing in Europe. I reached out to a couple of countries, particularly the United Kingdom and Holland. They were really on board with me getting through with my project.
“Also, when I went to England I was working with a company called Access Sport. They are in charge of sports and physical activities for persons with disabilities or vulnerable communities. Through working with them I got hands-on experience,” Rudder explained.
“I talked to the coaches and they were happy that I was interested in getting involved. So, they pointed me in the direction of getting training and that sparked everything for me,” he added.
With a diploma in special needs and disability, the 27-year-old Rudder noted he has done lots of training courses and workshops to equip himself with the knowledge of how to deal with persons within the disabled community.
“When I decided to come back home because of COVID, I decided that I should go forward and start an academy. Also, I have a sports science background as well. So, I understand the structure and how I need to set it up and get it moving.
“ I develop a system where I base my programs on the person’s ability. I would do a consultation with them, find out what they like and don’t like. I would talk to teachers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists to get information and that helps me to better develop a program. The program is combined between sport science, physical literacy and special educational needs,” he said.
According to Rudder who is one of Barbados top hockey strikers, the concept behind IncludeU Sports Academy is not just to have an inclusive sport for all but also to develop the entire person.
To achieve this Rudder – who has plans in September to do his masters in Inclusive Practices for Special Needs – has set out a systematic approach.
“The idea is to develop the person holistically. To develop a physical space where I have a culture where we are developing athletes for Special Olympics and Paralympics. I have also done training with both organisations. So, I have ideas and structures of how it is supposed to go.
“We can’t just bring a group of disabled persons and say try this activity right. It is a long-term development program that I developed. The idea now is to work with persons in small groups and one on one. Each session that I have developed goes into a particular structure no matter the disability,” Rudder stated.
The idea going forward is to get other persons on board to assist the academy in reaching a wider community, for instance, schools, organisations, and in so doing he intends to train others to be able to carry out the plan.
Rudder who has so far partnered with the Barbados Down Syndrome Association said the goal is to make himself familiar with the disabled community because genuinely he wants to help make a difference.
“Because I am not known in the community, a lot of people are assuming that I am an upstart just coming into the sport. However, what I have been doing throughout my life, travelling, playing hockey at the highest level has allowed me to be here at this point now and help others,” he stressed.
A Graydon Sealy alumnus, Rudder has plans to one day become an education assessor and said for him this goes beyond sports.
“My intentions go beyond sports. I intend to develop and make our society more inclusive in terms of workplaces, education or transportation. From travelling and being overseas, my eyes are open to a lot more. I can see that it is possible to be more inclusive. It just takes a bit of educating and a bit of work from everyone to get it done.”