The Valtti programme helps children and young people find hobbies

Description of the programme

Valtti is a youth sports project of the Finnish Sports Association of Persons with Disabilities (VAU). Its goal is to help children with special needs find a physical hobby. In Valtti-programme a personal adapted physical activity instructor (PAPAI) guides a child or young person with special needs into a suitable hobby. The term ‘Valtti’ is the Finnish equivalent of PAPAI.

Children and young people with special needs aged 6–23 can apply for the Valtti programme. The PAPAIs are students from the fields of physical education, education and pedagogics, rehabilitation and social welfare who are interested in adapted physical activity. The PAPAI acts as their client’s hobby friend, instructor, support person and consultant for an experimental period of 4–6 weeks.

The application period is 1 March to 30 April for the children and young applying for the programme and for the students who wish to act as PAPAIs. The application form is available on this site (in Finnish). The experimental period will take place during autumn.

During 2016, the Valtti model was tested in some 20 localities in collaboration with 19 universities of applied sciences, universities and institutions for physical education. The Valtti programme is part of the three-year (2015–2017) SEDY project, whose goal is to help disabled children and young people to engage with physical activities. The Finnish partner of the project is the Finnish Sports Association of Persons with Disabilities. VAU aims to create a permanent practice for guiding disabled children and young people to sports hobbies.


Results from the Valtti-pilot phase 2016

The results from the pilot-phase were promising. Altogether 367 children and young people with special needs aged 6-23 sent their application to get their own adapted physical activity instructor (PAPAI). Out of them 237 conducted the experimental periods in Autumn 2016, and 155 answered the feedback questionnaire. Of them 68 % were boys and their mean age was 12 years. 54% reported that they found a new sport as a hobby and 61 % reported that their physical activity level had increased. They tried altogether 37 different sports. The facilitators to sports participation were, if the participant had influence on the selection of sports, fun and joy during the try out, ability to participate after school and feelings of success. The hindrances to sports participation were inability to move independently to the hobby, as well as lack of assistance, hobby friend, transportation or adapted sports opportunities.

The PAPAIs were students or volunteers, 250 in total. Out of the PAPAIs 87% estimated that the role of PAPAI was a useful experience in their future career and 85% would recommend the role of PAPAI for future students. 

How can a child or young person apply for their own PAPAI?

Children and young people with special needs aged 6–23 can apply for the Valtti programme. A student who wishes to become a PAPAI will act as their client’s hobby friend, instructor, support person and consultant.

The programme is directed first and foremost at children and young who have a disability or long-term illness that hampers finding a sports hobby or participating in sports groups. Families can determine themselves whether the child or young person belongs to the target group, i.e., whether they are in need of special assistance.

The family will cover the expenses arising from participation fees, travel, the assistant and insurance fees. The participating families will commit to helping with the follow-up (through a feedback survey).

Students act as PAPAIs, supported by their personal Valtti coordinator

A PAPAI is, in a sense, a ‘personal trainer’. Students take on PAPAI duties as part of their studies. The PAPAI will act as their client’s hobby friend, instructor, support person and consultant. A PAPAI is not paid, but expenses (e.g., participation fees, travel expenses) are covered. A student who wishes to act as a PAPAI should apply for the programme during spring, but the actual It is also possible to apply on a volunteer basis. In such cases, we will resolve insurances and responsibilities individually. Valtti activities will commence only in the autumn.

The Valtti year clock

During spring, the student:

  • may attend the Valtti kickoff event, where additional information on the programme is given;
  • applies for the programme, and is given information on their Valtti client and instructions;
  • according to need, participates in education for adapted physical education or an event in adapted sports.

During summer, or in September 4th, at the latest:

  • The PAPAI will contact the family and arrange a meeting to get to know the family and to get a general picture of the hobby wishes of the child or young person.
  • After the meeting, the PAPAI will draft a trial and introductory programme, which will be realised during autumn.

The experimental period, August–December:

  • The PAPAI will organise an experimental period of 4–6 weeks, which will be carried out in August–December.
  • The PAPAI will organize minimum 4 try-out sessions.
  • The PAPAI will act as their client’s hobby friend, instructor, support person and consultant. The goal is to find a pleasurable hobby for the child or young person.
  • The PAPAI will document experiences, successes and downfalls together with the child or young person.
  • The PAPAI is supported by their local Valtti coordinator.

After the experimental period, by December 15th:

  • The tutor at the educational institution will record the credits for the student (the student must discuss this with their tutor beforehand). 
  • The PAPAI sends the forms for compensating travel and other expenses to VAU.
  • The PAPAI responds to the final survey and reports their experiences to VAU and gets a diploma.

Valtti coordinators support the PAPAIs

The local Valtti coordinator acts as the supervisor of the PAPAIs, solves any problems and helps to find suitable try-out locations and sports associations.  There are some 17 Valtti coordinators, one for each locality.

The Valtti coordinator:

  • acts as the local support person in the contact between VAU, the educational institutions, the sports activities and families;
  • solves any problems arising (e.g., if the PAPAI falls ill);
  • attends two national meetings or training sessions;
  • may do a thesis related to the programme (monitoring the Valtti pilot projects);
  • gets an opportunity to attend possible international duties/trips;
  • gets a vantage point, receives multifaceted experience in adapted physical education, expands their network .... 

Sports organisations

Sports associations can acquire new members through the Valtti programme. Sports associations can update their information on the VAU website in the registry Löydä oma seura (Find your sports association). This will also help the PAPAIs to find sports activities offered in their area, and thus be able to provide various opportunities for physical activity to their clients.

The SEDY project

The Valtti programme is part of the three-year SEDY (Sports Empowers Disabled Youth) project (2015–2017), which is funded through the European Union (ErasmusPlus). The goal of the project is to help more disabled children and young people to engage with physical activities. The SEDY project is coordinated by the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, School of Sports & Nutrition, and it has nine partners from seven countries (the Netherlands, Finland, Great Britain, Italy, France, Lithuania and Portugal). The Finnish partner of the project is the Finnish Sports Association of Persons with Disabilities.

The SEDY project seeks to map current problems and to find solutions to problems related to demand and supply. It has been noted that disabled children attend sports activities less and more rarely than children without disabilities. This is due to the lack of suitable programmes, activity locations and information. Disabled children do not know which form of sport or activity is suitable for them, where activities are organised, how to reach these locations and whether these activities are open for them. Families might fear that the child will not do well or fit in. Sports clubs assume that disabled children are not interested in club activities, or they are afraid that they lack the necessary skills and instructor resources. In the SEDY project, this is referred to as the problem of demand and supply.

The theoretical framework of the research is based on the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF). The project studies how factors linked to the individual or the environment affect how a disabled child or young person participates in physical activities. In 2015, the project gathered basic information from different countries (number of disabled children, participation in physical activities, physical activity systems). In 2016, the Valtti programme developed by VAU was executed. In 2017, the final year of the project, the gathered information and best practices will be disseminated across the whole of Europe. The final SEDY-conference was organised in Amsterdam November 29th to December 1st 2017.

Additional information on the SEDY