written by

Lisa Drennan (She/Her)

Creating friendships through inclusive sport

When we focus on an individual’s gifts and value that they can share with their community, we have taken the first step in facilitating and fostering a friendship based on a mutual interest that two people may share.

We live in a world where isolation and loneliness are becoming an increasing challenge for all communities the world over, especially for people with disability. Taking steps to create opportunities for friendships and genuine connection is important now, more than ever.

Sport and active recreation can provide the perfect environment for this to happen.

In this post you will learn:

  • The impact of loneliness and isolation
  • Why friendships are important
  • Why sport can create meaningful friendships between people with and without disability.

At the end of the post, we share how you can learn more on this issue, so you can take action on this in your club, activity or program.


Even before the onset of the global pandemic, isolation and loneliness were experienced by persons with disabilities at a considerably higher rate than their non-disabled peers. Now more than ever, it is crucial that we work to create opportunities for social connectedness and belonging.

Sadly, for people with disabilities, loneliness was already an issue.

Prior to COVID-19, 45% of people with intellectual disabilities reported feeling lonely (that is compared to only 10.5% of the general population). (1)  The lockdown has only made things worse, creating sudden deprivation of work, school and social connections.

Prior to COVID-19, 45% of people with intellectual disabilities reported feeling lonely.

It has been said that an antidote for loneliness is friendship, but having friends is also disproportionately not achieved as easily for people with disabilities. Compared to the general population, people with disabilities have fewer friends, less social support and are more socially isolated. (2)  

Research has shown that children with disabilities engage in less physical activity compared to their typically developing peers. (3)  By supporting children with disabilities to participate in community sports and activities, children gain activity-specific skills, group participation skills, self-esteem, increased independence, and opportunities to engage in positive peer interactions. (4)

Children with disabilities engage in less physical activity compared to their typically developing peers.

nclusive sports and recreation provide an ideal setting for this to occur. A coach, counsellor or instructor is uniquely positioned to begin the connection that could lead to an authentic relationship and friendship to blossom between a team member with, and a team member without, a disability.

Smiling girl stretching before training with friend on running track.

Why are friends so important?

Good friends are good for your health. Friends can help you celebrate good times and provide support during bad times. Friends inhibit loneliness and give you a reciprocal opportunity to also offer needed companionship. Friends can also increase your sense of belonging and purpose, boost your happiness and reduce your stress. Friends play a significant role in promoting your overall health. (5)

Good friends are good for your health.

Three mountain bikers having a toast.

So…. Why sport and active recreation? 

We participate in sport and active recreational opportunities with others because of common interests. Of all the ways we spend our time, recreational activities present the perfect platform for opportunities and foundations for friendship to be built.  Generally speaking, work & school environments focus on intelligence and productivity, and measurements associated therewith, thereby creating separation, or labels.  Recreation = Fun, Sports = Fun.  Everybody possesses the ability to have fun, feel fun, experience fun.  It is what people choose to do with their time, it’s where people want to spend their time.

And so, sport and active recreation settings provides the perfect opportunity to foster friendships for people with disability. Importantly opportunities for meaningful connection should be created in a way that leads to friendship between peers, both with and without disability.

But, it doesn't just happen, as with most things it requires proactive steps by coaches, instructors and administrators alike. It requires creating not only a welcoming and accessible environment for people with disability to participate but also requires thoughtful actions to foster authentic peer relationships.

Swimmers hold onto the pool edge.

Learn more

To help you go deeper on this important topic we created the ISD Masterclass Inclusive Sports: A Pathway Toward Friendship.

Presented by Lisa Drennan, this ISD Masterclass will give you the information, processes and tools you need to create opportunities for friendship between people with and without disability in your sport and recreation clubs, activities, and programs.

Watch the video for a brief introduction.

With this masterclass you will:

  • Understand what inclusion looks like in a sports setting
  • Explore the definition and attributes of friendship
  • Review top strategies to implement and build a culture of inclusion that leads to friendships


This ISD Masterclass is ideal for anyone delivering sport and recreation activities of any kind, especially coaches, program instructors, PE teachers and camp counsellors.

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Inclusive Sport Design acknowledges the Gundungurra and Tharawal people who are the custodians of the land where we work and live. Gundungurra and Tharawal people have strong connection to the Wingecarribee, Wollondilly and Nattai rivers through culture, dreaming and songlines. We pay respect to their elders past, present and emerging.