Local Adapted Physical Activity Instructors

Adapted Physical Activity Instructors

Finland has a nationwide adapted physical activity instructor system that dates back to the beginning of the 1980s. In 2019 fewer than 100 municipalities have a full-time APA instructor working in the municipalities. These are mainly the municipalities with over 20,000 inhabitants. Most of the municipalities do not have full-time APA instructors. This has a lot to do with the fact that most Finnish municipalities have under 10,000 inhabitants. Despite these facts almost 80 % of Finland’s population live in municipalities that have an APA instructor.

The general tasks of an APA instructor are to plan, organize, and develop APA in his/her area, and to collaborate with other sectors of local administration, organizations, and other partners. Instructors give expert consultation for other partners when needed. They work as an important link between public and voluntary sectors as well as between disability-specific and mainstream services. They instruct adapted physical activity groups and take care of information, communication, monitoring, statistics, and training related to APA.

Development of local Adapted Physical Activity instructors' work in Finland

The APA instructor position is created in 1980s

The first Sports Act in Finland was established in 1980. Accordingly, the Finnish Ministry of Education appointed an APA committee for a two-year term 1980-1981.

The committee compared the organization of APA in four different countries and made an outline for how to organize APA in Finland. The APA committee’s report became the APA development program for both the Finnish Ministry of Education and for the central government.

The Ministry of Education drafted an amendment to the Sports Act that stated that municipalities with over 10,000 inhabitants should have an APA instructor. This was the first time job positions for APA instructors were formed. This required an amendment to the Sports Act of 1979 in order to make the local APA instructor position a government subsidized position alongside the positions of sports director, sports secretary, and sports instructor. The APA instructor system was launched in 1984. Local authorities began to hire APA instructors and the first instructors began to work during 1984. The committee also proposed that specialization in APA should be added to the training of physical education teachers, sports instructors, and physiotherapists. This proposal was not realized until the early 1990s. Some sports institutes began to increase APA education already in the 1980s.

The principles and goals of the APA instructor systems were:

  1. Increased information about special groups in sports and physical activity
  2. International development
  3. Development in local sport division activated by the amendment to the Sports Act
  4. Create links between disability sports and other sport culture

The guiding idea in the new system was that the locally organized APA would supplement the sporting activities arranged by disability sport organizations. The focal point of locally organized adapted physical activity was promoting amateur sports and health-enhancing physical activity rather than competition.

The number of APA instructor positions began to increase during the 1980s to the extent that by the 1990s there were APA instructors already in 80 municipalities. The amendment to the Sports Act was crucial in encouraging local authorities to hire APA instructors who organize and guide physical activity for different special groups. In response to this trend, APA developed as a specialization of its own in the education of sports instructors. Specialization in APA took from six to twelve months. The Ministry of Education covered about half of the cost of the local positions from lottery funds and the local authorities covered the rest from tax income and entrance fees.

Towards the end of the 1980s APA instructors led 1800 groups altogether with a total of 40,000 participants. Special groups were the elderly, persons with physical disabilities, persons with sensory disabilities, persons with developmental disorders, persons living with mental illnesses, persons recuperating from mental illnesses, persons with pulmonary and respiratory illnesses and chronic illnesses.

The most important thing was that the new professional group, APA instructors, became an essential part of the municipal sports administration and activities. The disability organizations supported this development because the APA instructors provided a natural channel of cooperation at the local level.

1990s: The work of APA instructors becomes established

In the beginning of the 1990s not all municipalities with a population over 10,000 had hired APA instructors nor did they have the resources to do so during the recession. However, the Ministry of Education and the National Sports Council did not want to let the recession cut back this sport sector after having made such a conjoined effort to develop it and to set it in motion.

Despite the support of the sports administration, local authorities could not offer sufficient APA services to the special groups. Concerned about this, the Ministry launched a project in 1997 called "APA into Municipalities" that aimed to develop APA services and cooperation in medium-sized municipalities. The project was done in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, the Finnish Society of Sport Sciences (FSSS), and the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities. FSSS worked as the home base for the project. As the recession had brought the hiring of APA instructors to a halt, the project focused on municipalities which did not yet have a specialized instructor. The two-year project provided help for 30 municipalities with a population of 10,000 or more throughout Finland.

2000: The decade of development

The 21st century has been a time of development projects. The APA into Municipalities 1997–99 project continued in 2004–2006, 2007–2009 and 2013-2015. These projects were carried out by FSSS in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities and the participating municipalities. Just like its predecessor, the following “APA into Municipalities” projects have focused on municipalities that had not hired an APA instructor. Thanks to the foundation laid by the Finnish Society of Sport Sciences and the experience provided by the pilot projects, there was an effective model for local APA provision.

The 2010s

At the end of the 2010s, even though there are no government subsidies earmarked for APA, there are almost 100 full-time APA instructors in Finnish municipalities. It is estimated that these instructors cater to approximately 80,000 participants. In addition, different organizations provide APA for around 70,000 people. The Subcommittee for Equal rights and Gender Equality of the National Sports Council has commissioned a national review of the work of local APA instructors every four years from 1986 onwards. The latest review describes the situation in 2017 (Ala-Vähälä 2018). According to the report local APA has developed, but there are still several challenges in the overall development. For instance, there is a limited number of APA instructor positions and cross-sectoral cooperation. The provision of APA has been steadily increasing during the first decade of the 21st century.

The future development themes for 2019-2022 were published at the end of 2018. The development themes were based on the recommendations developed after the latest FSSS Adapted Physical Activity Days in 2018. The themes relate to the development of APA in accessibility, civic sector actions, education and research, developing cooperation between different ministries, and developing cooperation between the government and the municipalities.

Development of local Adapted Physical Acitivity instructors (pdf)