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Rugby League wheelchair World Cup winner delivers inclusivity session to students


England Rugby League’s wheelchair World Cup winning captain, Tom Halliwell, recently visited Leeds Trinity University to work with Physical Education (PE) students on applying inclusive teaching and coaching methods to their practice.


Halliwell delivered a two-hour session which introduced Leeds Trinity students to wheelchair rugby league and demonstrated how people of a diverse range of physical abilities can participate. 

Halliwell, who also plays for the successful Leeds Rhinos wheelchair team, is an able-bodied player and found his way into the wheelchair format of the sport after suffering an injury while playing the running game as a teenager. He opted to stay in the wheelchair version of the game after recovering and has since assembled an impressive collection of trophies and medals for club and country, including the World Cup which was won in November 2022.  

Earlier this year he joined the Leeds Rhinos Foundation as a Development Officer, a role which, in part, tasks him with ensuring rugby league continues to be inclusive by creating more opportunities for people to play. He is now passing on his knowledge to up-and-coming physical educators who will be able to implement what they have learnt in their approach to teaching in their future careers.  

Halliwell said: “Off the back of the World Cup, we can’t stick to what we were doing before, we must spread our wings and do something new and that includes coming out to different places and coaching.  

“The students here want to be PE teachers, so why not do wheelchair rugby league in a session? There may be one person in a PE class in a wheelchair who isn’t able to do anything in a ‘normal’ PE environment, so why don’t we make it inclusive for everyone and make sure they feel a part of it?  

“Hopefully, they can take what I’ve shown them into their future careers, classes and lessons once they graduate from university.” 

The session was delivered to Leeds Trinity University’s level six students on the accelerated BA (Hons) Physical Education course, all of whom have already secured placements on postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) or school-centred initial teacher training (SCITT) programmes.  

One of those was Brett Hawthorn, a bronze medal-winning wrestler for Great Britain at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi who was later included in the England Select boxing team for the 2017 GB three nations competition.  

Brett said: “I really enjoyed the session. It was something different that was fun to take part in. Getting used to moving the chair about whilst also thinking about the game of rugby was challenging but enjoyable. Once you got the hang of it the games became more competitive, and I enjoyed being able to smash into the other players without having to use my body to do it.  

“Tom Halliwell put on a great session and all aspects of the different training drills led into a competitive game at the end. He was a good instructor and had a laugh with us as well, which always makes the session more enjoyable. It gave me a good understanding of the game, which I have never really seen before, and an appreciation for people who do it, it is a serious work out.  

“If I was at a school and they brought in wheelchair rugby I would have loved it. I sent a few videos to my friends and have got a few interested in starting, so we might create a team.”  

The visit was part of a wider module on the course called ‘Inclusive Physical Education and School Sport’, which aims to expose students to a wider range of sports and activities and encourage them to incorporate them into their practises to promote inclusivity. As well as disability, topics such as, equality, diversity and relative age effects have been explored.  

Lisa Gannon, Associate Professor in Professional Practice at Leeds Trinity University, who has nurtured the links with outside organisations, said: The module provides the students with opportunities to study the theories of inclusion, unconscious bias, special educational needs and talent in sport and physical education 

“A predominant focus is differentiation and the relationship between the learner, the teacher or coach, the task and the environment. It builds upon the traditional sports that the students may be familiar with and introduces them to a wider range of practical learning experiences as both practitioner and participant.  

“The opportunity to collaborate with specialists such as Tom Halliwell, a world cup champion and superb practitioner, is truly inspirational and helps our students to spread the philosophy of inclusive practice as they head out into schools.”  

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