Rochdale’s second-year apprentices have been integrating with the local community as part of their Fitness Testing for Sport and Exercise unit on the BTEC Level 3 Diploma in Sport.
The Dale youngsters performed health screenings on students with severe learning difficulties and disabilities (SLDD) at Bury College, conducting activities such as taking blood pressure, recording heart rate and measuring BMI.
Rehan Sultan, Lecturer in Sports Studies and Learning Improvement Leader, told LFE: “Our SLDD students are studying a healthy living unit as part of their course, so it made sense to merge that together with the fitness testing unit.
“We got the apprentices to do the health screening and in return the SLDD students got lots of detailed information about their own health, as the lads then provided recommendations for them moving forward.”
In addition to aiding their education, the collaboration is designed for the Rochdale teenagers to “mix with different types of people, not just able-bodied students,” something Sultan believes will boost their holistic development.
He said: “When they leave, some of the boys won’t get a professional contract and they need to go into the workplace and demonstrate that they can communicate with different types of people, whether that’s face-to-face, over the phone or whatever that may be.
“They need to understand that they’re very lucky to be young, healthy and able-bodied and other people are a lot more disadvantaged than them, so they need to learn to respect, tolerate and work with other people.”
Sultan expressed his delight at the reaction he saw from the players.
“The boys performed outstandingly well, they were really good and communicated really well,” he continued. “The teachers in that department were so impressed with them.
“They know how to be professional in that environment around other people. When they’re walking around campus and talking to other staff, they do that with respect and when they do these types of assessments with other students, they all step up.
“You can see that although they’re only 17 or 18-years-old, when you actually give them a task to do where they have to work with members of the community or other people who they don’t know, they can really demonstrate that they are excellent communicators.
“They’ve got confidence, they know what they’re talking about, they can safely administer tests, they can work with people, they can analyse data and give feedback to people, so they’re going to be leaving here quite skilled.”
Under-18s midfielder Elliott Murray and captain Joe Renner were both keen to highlight the benefits of the initiative in improving their progression as people and as players.
Renner said: “I think it has definitely improved my communication skills. With them having learning difficulties, communicating in the right way and being able to clearly show them how to perform activities was vital for some of them.
“I think that then helps to improve leadership skills on the pitch because being able to organise and direct people and communicate those instructions properly is a huge part of the game.
“I think it’s vital to see different branches of society because it develops yourself as a person, but also helps out others at the same time. I think it’s really important.”
Meanwhile, Murray added: “It keeps us grounded and gets us out of our group which can become a bit of a comfort zone. They didn’t see us as footballers; they saw us as normal students at the college like everybody else.
“It was pretty inspiring to be honest – they don’t let their learning difficulties stop them at all. It’s easy to take everything for granted and sometimes you feel like you’re going through a hard time, but the way they’re so positive just puts everything into perspective.”