Starting a morning with soccer is usually enough to bring smiles to the faces of the players in AYSO 605’s VIP program. But a couple of weeks ago, the grins got even wider when their hour-long Saturday workout came to an end.
It was picture day.
VIP (Very Important Players) is part of American Youth Soccer Organization 605’s program for youth with physical and mental disabilities.
Kicking around a soccer ball is only half the pleasure for its participants. Getting a sense of the all-inclusive components of playing an organized sport – including posing with your teammates for photograph – are just as important.
We’re really thankful. I think these children are very aware of others being involved in sports. It’s good they’re involved … God blesses motion. And when you’re in motion I think positive things happen for your body and overall spirit and mind.
A.W. Burgess, a parent of one of the players
AYSO 605’s VIP program returned this season after a four-year hiatus. It has four players – that’s double the number the national AYSO office requires to start a VIP program.
The fall season has just a couple weeks left but AYSO 605 is taking registrations for its spring season.
“My goal as a parent and as the person in charge of the program is ‘the more the merrier,’” said Kelly Manning, AYSO 605 treasurer and VIP coordinator. “We would love to have 10-20 kids so that we need more coaches. From wheelchairs to walkers, this is what we want. We want them outside in the air, and having something of their own.”
The VIP program is open to youth of all ages. It is modeled after AYSO’s Mini Kickers program, which is an introductory soccer course for children younger than 5.
Concord resident Tom Miller, whose 7-year-old son Ryan plays, said most people associate Downs syndrome with mental disabilities, but it also affects physical abilities such as muscle tone. The VIP program tailors to Ryan’s needs in both areas.
Stevie De Rossi coaches the VIP program. He works with players primarily on dribbling and passing skills.
Because the players have varying abilities, De Rossi tries to individualize their instruction. But they all seem to like drills in which they get to knock down small cones with soccer balls.
“It works on keeping the ball close to them and working on the right technique,” said De Rossi, who is assigned to the AYSO 605 organization through professional soccer company UK International Soccer.
Manning attended a national AYSO conference in Knoxville, Tenn., in February and learned about the VIP program. Upon her return, she shared drills and an understanding of players’ special needs with De Rossi.
Manning’s son, Sean, is a VIP player. For most of his life, the closest the 14-year-old ever got to being a soccer player like his brother and sister was playing with them in the backyard or on the sideline at their AYSO 605 games.
Sean was born with cerebral palsy and has a vision impairment that has often made him feel excluded from his siblings and friends. His brother Hunter and sister Kaitlyn have played in AYSO leagues for several years.
This fall, Sean played soccer.
Because of his vision impairment, he plays with a ball equipped with a rattle so he can keep track of it. Sean is a student at Vance High and one of his classmates and VIP teammates is 14-year-old Anisa Burgess, who has epilepsy.
Because of the potential for seizures, her parents, A.W. and Trena Burgess, have been cautious when deciding what Anisa would play. They figured VIP soccer was safe because the ball always stays on the ground.
“We’re really thankful,” said A.W. Burgess. “I think these children are very aware of others being involved in sports. It’s good they’re involved … God blesses motion. And when you’re in motion I think positive things happen for your body and overall spirit and mind.”
Joe Habina is a freelance writer: email@example.com
For information, go to www.ayso605.com.