Heng Phanat, young footballer overcoming disability

Phanat Finds Inclusion and Wellbeing on The Pitch

Heng Phanat loves to hear the excitement of the crowd. Besides taking home a gold medal, that’s his favourite thing on the pitch. He’s an attacker for Toul Krasang FC and he relishes the moments he has on the field with his teammates. The athletic teenager trains religiously and often competes in tournaments and exhibitions at ISF Sports Ground’s international standard pitch. He’s come a long way from playing in the alleys and yards near his home.

Phanat has an intellectual disability. It causes him to often struggle in communication and in understanding those around him. But on the football field, he feels whole. With the support of Hands of Hope Community (HHC), an ISF partner organisation, he has access to a safe play space. ISF coaches travel to HHC weekly to deliver on-site training to disabled youth like him. These visits are crucial to ensuring Phanat has regular opportunities to play. He never misses a session.

This 18-year old has been a part of ISF’s Football Programme since 2016. For him, our All Abilities events are vital opportunities to have fun and show his talents through competition. When asked what football has given him, Phanat shared that without sport he might not have made so many good friends. He’s also now able to identify his own strengths and weaknesses. And most importantly, football has taught him how a healthy lifestyle improves his daily performance.

“When I play football, I feel that I am not different from other young people at my age, and that we’re all working to develop ourselves.”

Benefits for Players Living with Disability

Play transcends language, culture and social barriers. That makes it an ideal approach for promoting inclusion and community building. Persons with disabilities are often excluded from education, employment and community life. Sports can help reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with disability. It can transform community attitudes about the disabled by highlighting their skills and personhood. There are also marked benefits to disabled youths themselves. Through sport, they can acquire social skills through team play and develop a sense of independence. According to the Child Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, “sports participation enhances the psychological well-being of children with disabilities through the provision of opportunities to form friendships, express creativity, develop a self-identity, and foster meaning and purpose in life”.

Phanat Finds Himself Though Football

The determined footballer has noticed a positive shift in his life after joining in regular training. Phanat sees his previous self as an isolated, short-tempered, and weak person. Through the activity and community that come with team play, he believes he has become more patient, confident and fit. The young sportsman asserts, “When I play football, I feel that I am not different from other young people at my age, and that we’re all working to develop ourselves.”