Photo/Courtesy of Akeem Rudder
Senior national field hockey player Akeem Rudder sets out to create a culture of inclusion in Barbados with inclusive sports programs for people with special needs.
Akeem Rudder has been playing hockey for twelve years and has accomplished a lot since his debut at the end of primary school. After eight years of being a striker on the national team, he is now working on creating a unique way to give back to his community.
In a recent interview with Unstoppable Yes You, Akeem shared why he chose sport as the medium to achieve his goal of inclusion. He reveals, “entering secondary school hockey really changed my life completely. In primary school I was a bit of a chubby kid, I had low confidence and while playing hockey I lost all the weight and eventually became more confident. For me, it’s really about giving someone the experience I had. I really want them to be able to build that confidence that I got from being a part of sports”.
The idea for creating a sports academy was sparked by one of his Sports Science degree courses called Sports and International Development. He was tasked with creating a program for a vulnerable community and chose special needs. He explains that he always had an interest in the subject area. He used his assignment as an opportunity to conduct research and finally delve into it. After completing the assignment, the connections he made during research encouraged him to continue his pursuit.
He subsequently went to Manchester for further training. There he completed a diploma in Special Needs Education and Disability and got hands-on training with a company similar to his own, called Access Sport. After racking up a plethora of coaching certifications, Rudder recognized the greater need for such services in Barbados. Thus, he created IncludeU Sports Academy in December 2020.
For Rudder, this organization is much more than a continuation of a school project. He affirms that his real passion is showing people how impactful sport can really be. In the interview, he explains that providing even a semblance of what he achieved and experienced in sport to people with special needs that are usually ostracized and excluded is “more important than going after a mainstream profession”.
He mentions that oftentimes people with special needs go to gyms and ordinary places and are turned away because there is no one to train or assist them. Rudder asserts that this is what he wishes to change. “I want everyone to be able to understand that people with disabilities are a part of our community and I want people to be able to understand how to talk to people with a disability, how to include them.” He shared that educating the public will also be an important part of the organization’s agenda, revealing “a lot of people don’t understand (what having a disability means) and they say a lot of stuff that might be very offensive but they don’t know it’s very offensive”.
The main goal of IncludeU Sports Academy is to create a culture of inclusion in Barbados. Rudder would like to change the mindset about what a person with a disability can do. Through the organization, he is creating an environment that is open and able to include anyone that turns up.
When asked what the picture of success for IncludeU Sports Academy would be, he expressed that having greater participation in the Special Olympics and Paralympics is what he envisions when he thinks of success. He also hopes to acquire a large physical space that can act as a safe haven for his clients and expand his organization across the Caribbean. Rudder wants to give his clients something they can look forward to, a place where they can go to build their skills and make diverse connections.
The IncludeU Sports Academy provides flexible and custom-made recreational programs and competitive training. The process begins with a consultation and then a program is customized for the client where sessions can either be done at home or a nearby facility. Though at-home visits are risky at present, Rudder's programs are accessible with no transportation barrier.
When asked what drives him, the 27-year-old stated that he sees hockey as his vehicle to get more out of life and make connections. The striker has made such a substantial amount of valuable connections throughout his career that when asked who he looks up to he remarked that there are too many to name. However, Rudder acknowledges one of his university lecturers expressing, “whenever I have a conversation with him, I feel motivated and I know that he lives the life that he speaks. For me, that’s a big thing. I want to know that if I am taking advice from you, that you are living what you speak.”
Aside from sports, Rudder enjoys photography, mountain biking, and reading. He is a recent first-class honors graduate of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill. Rudder intends to further his education and pursue his master's in inclusive practices for special needs this September.
His advice for young entrepreneurs that may also be athletes like himself is to stay on task and on top of their schedules. Rudder stated, “my advice to you is definitely time management. Time management for me was the most important thing and I cannot stress how important it was.” While he stresses the importance of sticking to a schedule, he urges his peers to ensure that they set aside time for themselves to avoid burnout.
For Rudder, these initiatives are only the beginning. Within the next five years, he would like to become an Inclusion Officer within the government to aid in creating policies that support a more inclusive society in Barbados.