A Belfast-based football coach working with children with special needs has been named Disability Coach of the Year at the 2019 Sport Northern Ireland SportMaker Awards.

Michael McShane is the Orchardville Disability Football Manager and, through his work, recognised that there was a keen interest in the sport from members, so he set up and established a team. The team, having no previous football experience, were entered into the IFA Disability Football League and through Michael’s leadership and training support they were awarded IFA league 1 Champions.This win resulted in them being nominated and winning a “Sporting Chance” award at the National Learning and Autism Awards 2019.

As well as the ongoing commitment to the success of the team’s performance on the pitch, Michael has embraced the challenges that come with managing a team off the pitch, such as promoting healthly eating and cutting down on junk food, tackling physical and mental wellbeing, creating a culture that builds confidence, finding resolutions to problems and offering confidential support to teammates if facing personal challenges in their life.

Michael has established standards which builds respect and trust between player and coach, whilst providing a framework to build confidence when experiencing everyday independent life skills. Michael explains that by using technology like WhatsApp for group and private chats all members of the team have contact with each other every day and night helping to improve communication through teamwork.

Louise Cooke, a coaching colleague of Michael’s, explains;

“Everything Michael does is for the team and has a greater purpose than just sport and winning. It’s all in the best interest of the players and all about what they can gain from being on this team”.

Sport NI’s SportMaker Awards recognise the contribution of the local sporting working – the coaches, officials, volunteers and projects making a difference. The Disability Coach of the Year award is awarded to coaches who have made an impact in widening access to sport and developing athletic performance among athletes or teams with a disability.

Michael received his award during a weekly training session. Reacting to his win, Michael said:

“It feels absolutely surreal to win the Disability Coach of the Year award for 2019. It just puts the icing on the cake for the year that I’ve had with these guys. I wake up in the mornings excited that I get to coach this team, so to be recognised in this way is really tough to sum up in words … it’s a real honour and a privilege.”

Congratulating Michael, Sport NI Chief Executive Antoinette McKeown said:

“Sport NI believes passionately in the power of sport to change lives. By maximising that power, sport can reach out to people of all abilities to enable them to reach their goals. Michael’s oustanding work as a coach is testimony to this as he channels his own passion and love for sport to improve the lives of young people in the community. Through Michael’s skillful coaching and dedication, his team are able to enjoy the personal growth, improved self-confidence, friendships and sheer fun that sport offers.

The SportMaker awards are all about shining a light on the exceptional sporting workforce that exists in Northern Ireland. On Behalf of Sport NI I would like to warmly congratulate Michael on winning this award, and wish him and the team at Orchardville all the very best for the future.”