“If you want to play soccer, we will make it happen!”
I found myself telling Cub he could play soccer after a Physical Therapy (PT) session. Cub had met most of his initial goals for the term, so the therapist was asking what else they should do. We settled on sports as a next PT goal. He hasn’t tried many sports and lacks the intuitive nature to pick up the skills from watching. Cub picked soccer as the sport to learn. The therapist gave us a plot twist: he suggested we join a park district soccer team instead of working on it in a clinic environment. The best way to work on sport skills is to play with a team. The spring season hadn’t started yet so we signed Cub up and hoped for the best.
Park District Soccer
His first practice was a disaster. The wide open space and wind gave Cub sensory overload. The rest of the team had already had a practice and game while we were out of town. It was clear that the other players were much better than Cub who had barely kicked a ball around. Rigid thinking and his autism were highly visible when he refused to repeat drills, because in his mind he learned it the first time and didn’t need to do it again. It was all too much and we had a meltdown.
We spent the next week explaining that his brain might know what to do after one time but his muscles need to practice more than once to get good at something. I am always amazed when he can articulate the thought process he has at times like this. It shows me how Autism is a different wiring of the brain. At least he wanted to play in his first game that weekend.
When we got home after that first miserable practice, I did what I always do, start searching for tools and helps from my Facebook network and on the internet. It was also a moment to grieve how he doesn’t match up with his same age peers. I found a program at our local soccer club, called TOPSoccer. It was exactly what we needed. TOPSoccer is an outreach program by US Youth Soccer to introduce youth with disabilities to the sport and include them in the game. We started taking Cub to the weekly TOPSoccer practices in additions to his park district team practices and games. He appreciated the supportive environment and more practice time. At TOPSoccer each player is assigned a buddy from the local FC club to help them with the drills and skill practice. At the end of the night everyone scrimmages together.
After the season ended his TOPSoccer coach sent out an email about a Regional Tournament for US Youth Soccer. They were having a showcase for the program. It was only a couple hours away. Cub was eager to go and play some more, especially knowing that it would be with other kids like him.
TOPSoccer Midwest Showcase
Cub doesn’t show interest in many activities away from home so it was exciting to take him to the showcase. The kids each picked a buddy and warmed up before their first game. They played 7 vs 7 and all kids had various challenges or disabilities like Cub. The best part was the crowd over 100 referees from the tournament were on hand to cheer the kids on. The energy in the room was electric. Cub and all these kids were superstars! His teammate who backed up 20 feet to take a running start to kicked the ball 10 ft got the same cheers as the one that scored his second goal on a breakaway run. Everyone was celebrated.
The day included 3 games and a skills workshop. Cub was tired after the first game so we headed home. He wasn’t used to playing so hard for so long. It was a great day and one we won’t forget. He can’t wait to play again next season with his TOPSoccer friends.
Its hard as a mom to know that you child will never compete well with his same age peers. Its a great feeling when we can find the programs that work well for our kids where they are at. The frustrating part as a special needs mom is we have to look twice has hard to find these programs because they aren’t usually advertised as much as those for typical kids. I’m so glad we found TOPSoccer and can continue to participate and spread the word in our area.