Jets coach pilots Special Olympics’ Young Athletes program



Rachael Szumski, 24, is a coach at Jets Gymnastics in Eltham. 

In November 2018, Rachael was approached by Gymnastics Victoria and Special Olympics Australia to assist in the delivery of two 4-week pilots of Special Olympics’ Young Athletes– a program designed to develop the fundamental movement skills of children aged 2 – 8 years with an intellectual disability. The pilots were delivered at Diamond Creek Special Development School and Hartnett House in Brunswick. 

“I’ve been involved with gymnastics for as long as I can remember. I first started as a gymnast when I was 3 years old, competing in Gymstar competitions from age 8 and concluding my gymnast career at 16. That wasn’t the end for me - I started coaching gymnastics at age 14 and still do now, at age 24” said Rachael. 

Rachael was inspired to become involved in the Young Athletes pilot after attending a Gymnastics Victoria Inclusion Awareness workshop. She was also encouraged by a subject she had recently completed at university, which emphasized the importance of taking on new opportunities to improve leadership skills. This opportunity, she found, was both challenging and rewarding. 

“The most challenging part of the program was getting to know the children and their needs. Once I knew the children, everything became rewarding. From a child finally engaging in an activity, to a child dancing along to the music, to the children being excited to see you; it felt like something was being done right. I loved helping the children gain confidence, make progress, and have fun.”

Rachael believes that gymnastics and Young Athletes are great opportunities for children with a disability to increase their participation in sport and recreation and to become more engaged in their community. 

“Everyone, regardless of age, gender, ability or background deserves to feel valued and respected, and have access to opportunities and resources. Gymnastics aims to improve physical, cognitive and social skills which are transferable to almost any other sport as well as a lifetime of activity, and as such, should promote inclusion for all” said Rachael. 

Rachael strongly encourages other young coaches and clubs to support inclusion of all people in the community by opening their doors to people with a disability.  

“Working with people with disabilities is a mutually rewarding experience. For myself, it was a privilege and an honour to work with these children and help them reach their full potential. For many coaches, working with people with disabilities will not only improve their own coaching, but give them a fresh perspective on inclusion. You are having a profound impact on someone’s life and you are providing them with support to become more independent and confident in their abilities. As for gymnastics clubs, having an ‘open door’ policy means nothing unless it is backed up by action.”

For more information on Young Athletes please contact Naazmi Johnston, Special Olympics Sport Development Manager (NSW) at naazmij@specialolympics.com.au