Bringing out the â Exceptionalâ in kids with special needs
Exceptional Sports or E-Sports is a development program that offers children with special needs an opportunity to participate in a safe, non-judgmental and organized sporting environment with expert coaches and trainers.
Bringing out the ‘ Exceptional’ in kids with special needs
Jan Victor R. Mateo (The Philippine Star) - September 16, 2018 - 12:00am

There is a barrier that has to be overcome.

In the Philippines, over 3.2 million people are diagnosed with conditions such as autism, ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. Unfortunately, due to limitations brought about by various societal factors, many of them – especially the children – continue to face challenges in their everyday lives.

A development program called Exceptional Sports or E-Sports seeks to address that very problem. It offers children with special needs an opportunity to participate in a safe, non-judgmental and organized sporting environment with expert coaches and trainers.

“It is an inclusive sports development program for differently-abled Filipinos. It is sports and play. This basically means bringing the community together and showing them the power of sports,” says E-Sports co-founder Paolo Enrile.

“In sports, you get a lot of moments that you gain physical attributes. You grow in your mental wellness, as well as your social and emotional skills. There’s a lot that happens when you’re engaged in a sport. In one session, so many different things can happen,” he adds.

Founded in 2015, E-Sports traces its roots to an inclusive soccer program based in California. Enrile, a football player and coach, was invited to bring the program to the Philippines and help children with special needs overcome the challenges they face through sports.

“People with special needs are basically trapped in this bubble that they can’t do that much. That’s the perception of a lot of people. But they have a lot of potential,” he says.

“Why are sports and play vital to exceptional children? It builds self-esteem, it teaches independence. It improves social and academic success, alongside developing motor skills and pursuit of excellence in performance, develop skills like teamwork, goal-setting,” he adds.

From holding sports sessions in a school that offers special education classes, the program has since expanded to the conduct of monthly events that cater to different communities.

It has also launched its own academy that offers one-on-one trainings focusing on the progression, development and growth of children with special needs.

Their primary objective, according to Enrile, is to tap the potential and provide opportunities for “exceptional” children. He says they envision to train athletes who would compete and win the gold for the Philippines in the Special Olympics.

The E-Sports program

Now officially under Exceptional Families Worldwide Foundation Inc., the project has two main activities: the monthly sports community outreach events and the E-Sports Academy.

The community outreach events feature a combination of sports and play activities that enable participants to socialize in a safe and comfortable environment. It also involves the same number of coaches and volunteers to ensure that each child can make the most out of the activities.

“Before E-Sports, we don’t have any program that caters to persons with special needs that would allow them to have sessions that we have,” says Enrile.

He notes that unlike in regular sports clinics, the activities under the E-Sports community outreach program ensure that they take into account the needs of children with special needs.

The monthly events are supported by various sponsors, with participants charged a minimal fee of P50 to cover some logistical costs.

To ensure sustainability of the project, the team recently established the E-Sports Academy that offers once or twice per week sessions for exceptional athletes.

For a fee, parents can work with coaches and other experts to develop a goal-based program for their children. A scholarship program is also available for aspiring special athletes from lower income families.

Currently, the academy offers programs on football and fitness, with plans to launch those that focus on basketball, swimming, cycling, dodgeball, triathlon, tennis, badminton, mixed martial arts, weightlifting, billiards and gymnastics, among others.

In the football academy, which can either run for three or six months, participants learn the fundamentals of the sport while at the same time develop teamwork and social skills.

“Each athlete will have some form of progression in either or all of these categories: mental, emotional, social and physical development but solely based on the athletes’ capabilities,” says Enrile.

Meanwhile, the fitness academy that runs for two months provides students the basics of hand-eye coordination, foot-eye coordination, cardio, strength and condition training.

Parents can also enroll their children in a trial month to get a feel of the E-Sports programs before full enrollment.

“Each athlete is provided an evaluation form in order for the staff and coaches to correctly assess the capacity of the athlete. Daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal goals are all taken into account to provide a structured guideline in which the pair do their best to follow,” says Enrile.

“The funds that we generate from that will be allow us to establish more academies, as well as fund some of the programs that we are running, such as the monthly events that we have,” he adds.

Since its launch in 2016, over 2,000 children with special needs have taken part in the community outreach programs.

Enrile notes the impact of their program on the participants.

“We’ve been able to improve the motor skills of the athletes enrolled in our program. There have been instances when they come to join the program and they have not been able to do any sit-ups or pushups,” he says.

“But some of the kids have surprised us by doing 120 in one sitting, 120 sit-ups, 10 pushups (after the program). It shows that there is progress, growth in the program,” he adds.

The impact is more evident for those taking part in the E-Sports Academy.

Ana Marie Chua, whose eight-year old son Isaac is enrolled in the football academy, says the activities have been beneficial to his development.

“We have very limited activities to expose them to. One of their issues is sensor integration, sometimes a simple sound can be too noisy for them. Or sometimes the turf can be irritating,” she says of children with special needs.

“Self-esteem matters now, the confidence. When he sees himself lagging behind, it affects him also. When we found E-Sports, it gave him a venue to have a physical outlet. All of his sensory challenges, he just develops on his own,” she adds.

She notes the difference in the activities from the conventional therapies that Isaac, who is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, undergoes.

“He’s able to achieve all of the expected goals at his own pace,” she says. “In E-Sports, they build that connection that gets you to do the goals. If you put the goals first (before connecting with him), that’s when frustrations come it.”

From being hesitant to take part in the activities, Isaac is now actively looking forward to the twice-weekly sessions.

For Enrile, an important aspect in developing “exceptional” athletes is the support not just of their families but of entire communities.

In addition to launching more sports programs under the E-Sports Academy, the foundation eyes more projects in the communities to get more children with special needs involved.

Among the plans is to organize a sportsfest participated in by over 1,000 athletes from different communities. E-Sports is also looking at establishing training camps in communities to develop more potential athletes.

“With all the partners that we’ve been able to get, the parents, the schools and definitely the kids, our dreams can only get bigger and we can achieve that by being exceptional together,” says Enrile.

“The potential for this program to grow is beyond my imagination. The only way I can say is if we do this the right way, the chances are we’ll be able to expand rapidly and make a big difference in the community of those three million people diagnosed. We’ll be shaping the landscape of persons with special needs from what it is today to a whole different world that it is possible to have,” he adds.

E-Sports is a beneficiary of BPI Sinag, a program of BPI Foundation that provides support to social enterprises through grants; business boot camps and in-depth mentoring; and networks and impact investors. For details about E-Sports, visit

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with