Readers who enjoy fantasy books or movies will be familiar with the Harry Potter series and the sport of Quidditch. Yes, it’s the sport played on brooms in which players throw the Quaffle and attempt to catch the tiny, golden Snitch to end the game.  However, a sport that may only seem possible in fantasy can become reality with just a few modifications. In the real world, Quidditch is a combination of flag football, dodgeball, rugby, basketball, and a little bit of soccer. It requires a complex understanding, attention, and playing ability.

The University of Southern Mississippi Institute for Disability Studies (IDS) has established an Inclusive Quidditch game which focuses on the five domains of health to improve the overall quality of life for all participants, including people with disabilities.  While some may think Quidditch is just a silly sport played on brooms by Harry Potter fans, it’s important to consider the benefits and complexity of the sport and how it can be used as a therapeutic recreation tool in checking all five of the domains of health:  physical, emotional, cognitive, social and spiritual.

Playing the sport requires individuals to be physically active.  Some individuals in the Inclusive Quidditch program have never played a sport before. Because of the ties to Harry Potter, most don’t even think about the fact that they are playing a sport and being active.  Most individuals involved in the program have an intellectual or developmental disability. The stresses from the difficulty of communicating or having one’s needs met can lead to emotional instability. However, having the sport as a stress reliever or an outlet to express oneself and his/her sporting talent can help in developing positive coping strategies.

Let’s be honest. Everyone has day-to-day difficulties with following directions and remembering deadlines, grocery lists, and e-mails. Being able to understand the complexities of Quidditch and remember how the game is played can provide the needed boost to increase someone’s critical thinking and memory skills.

Sports are great because they provide a sense of belonging. Being a member of the team is sometimes more vital than actually playing the sport itself. The majority of individuals in this program have difficulty socializing and feeling like an important part of society. With Quidditch, players are able to socialize with their teammates and build relationships with their peers and IDS staff members. Everyone on the team is on the same playing field, and everyone is just as important to the success on the field as the next player, so everyone plays an important role on the team.  The spiritual domain does not require a connection to one’s religion, it’s more of a sense of feeling connected to yourself and the individuals around you. It’s having control over one’s life and being able to experience optimal quality of life. I believe when all four of the previous health domains are met, the individual is able to experience self-actualization. When all of our needs are met, then we are able to feel accomplished and take ownership of our achievements. Quidditch is a way for individuals to experience self-actualization and feel fully satisfied.

When starting the Inclusive Quidditch program, no one anticipated the extent to which it would impact someone’s quality of life. Joe (not his real name) has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), slight communication/socialization problems and rarely played physical sports before.  At one of the Inclusive Quidditch events, he decided to play, and let us just say the rest is history.  There are always “naturals” at any given sport, and Joe is a natural at Quidditch. From the moment he got on the pitch, we knew he was meant to play the sport and could use the sport as a tool to teach individuals about ASD as well as to improve his communication/socialization skills.  Instantly he became a leader on his team, not only through his playing ability, but also through his vocal leadership to his teammates.  Joe began leading his team on where to go on the pitch and drawing up plays to run.

He took his role as a leader to heart, and also showed it through his playing skills by almost scoring every point for his team. The University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) Quidditch Team was partnering with the IDS for the event, and the captains were so impressed with Joe’s skills that they invited him to be part of their team. Not only is Joe a member of the USM Quidditch team, but he is also now a full-time student living in a dorm at USM. The Inclusive Quidditch program had a positive influence in his development in becoming a leader and his positive outcomes.

The IDS Therapeutic Recreation programs provide free, inclusive recreation for individuals with and without disabilities in the community.  Current recreational programming is provided through Project Stick, a grant funded through the Mississippi Council on Developmental Disabilities.

For more information on the IDS’ Therapeutic Recreation programs, contact Tyler Edwards, CTRS, at 228.214.3327 or william.t.edwards@usm.edu.