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Nerea - Football - Dyspraxia

“As I got older and more into sport, I discovered the distinct lack of neurodivergent representation..."

Nerea is a keen footballer and is Dyspraxic.

Put simply, Dyspraxia is a condition that affects a person’s ability to plan and coordinate their movements. Contrary to common misconception, Dyspraxic individuals can improve their motor function through participation in sport and physical activity, but learning needs to be piecemeal and explicit. Unfortunately an alarmingly high number of Dyspraxic children discount themselves from sport entirely due to traumatic early experiences, such as being labelled 'clumsy' or 'slow', and being bullied or ostracised.

Fortunately for Nerea, she 're-found' sport as an adult, but she's very aware of how unusual that is. She's keen to highlight the lack of awareness, understanding, and representation of Dyspraxia in all sports, because she sees it as the only way to ensure progress. Sport for Nerea has brought her an incredible amount of joy, and she wants to ensure other Dyspraxic and neurodivergent individuals have opportunities to experience the same.

Nerea's Story

“I’m in the women’s football squad at university and enjoy playing and spending time with my teammates. As a Dyspraxic footballer, it’s important to be part of the movement that’s raising awareness of difference and disability in sport. Neurodiversity is gaining recognition and traction in the media, and we need to capitalise on it.”

The degree to which Nerea’s Dyspraxia affects her puts her at a disadvantage in sport. She feels disabled by it, but her disability is not necessarily recognised or represented. For Nerea, her choices are as limited as her role models. She continues “unlike blind 5-a-side and amputee football, neuro-representation is not as visible as other disabilities. When I was younger, I hated sport and I was not particularly good at it, mostly due to my Dyspraxia. It came to a point in my childhood where I just didn’t do any exercise or sporting activities because of it. As someone who is Dyspraxic and loves football (and swimming) it would have been incredibly inspiring to see Dyspraxia represented at an elite level in sport. To see someone who looked like me and acted like me could have made a huge difference to my early engagement in sport…" Nerea is older and wiser now, and she's fortunately rediscovered her love for sport, but the continued lack of neurodivergent representation continues to discourage too many neurodivergent children and young people for life.

On sporting role models, Nerea comments, “people with my condition are not represented in football like those with other disabilities. As of 2022, there were no known neurodivergent footballers playing at the elite or Paralympic level.” Since the beginning of 2023 a few professional footballer players have disclosed their ADHD and Autism, but representation of Dyspraxic athletes is woefully inadequate. Yes, Dyspraxia makes it particularly challenging to rise to the top in sport, but it isn’t impossible. There are many examples of athletes making up for their coordination deficits with hard work, determination, and strength in other areas. They're just not spoken about. Nerea believes “the idea of an idolised neuro-footballer should exist, but simply doesn't. Football, like any other sport, still has a long way to go to ensure that representation is more inclusive.” As one of the most popular sports, wouldn’t that make a huge statement? “Football is the world’s most popular sport, and as such they should aim to achieve more in the difference and diversity space.”

Nerea asked two questions that I'd like to highlight:

"How are people like me supposed to aim high when we don’t see ourselves represented at an elite or professional level?

How are existing neurodivergent athletes supposed to inspire the next generation when they aren’t given media representation?”

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