It’s a Monday afternoon and a group of six young kids are kicking a ball around the …hall in Turramurra. Nothing unusual in that – except these are all special needs kids. Some couldn’t kick a ball before, wait their turn or perform a sequence of movements. So a ball in goal means so much more here.
Their transformation into soccer loving players is a huge achievement for the parents standing on the sidelines watching.
Pairing kids with disabilities with sport is uncommon: only 23% ever engage in regular sport, compared to 64% of the general population.
Identifying this gaping need in ensuring all kids get to play sport, the Soccajoeys Foundation set up free indoor soccer skills and training classes for boys and girls aged three to eight with additional needs like Autism, Down’s Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and Global Development Delay, in five Sydney locations including Turramurra and Epping.
Set up by Jose Bello, a former professional footballer and father of two who wanted to see all children participating in sport regardless of ability, Soccajoey’s Next Step classes tailor the sessions to suit the needs of those attending. The classes are run by volunteer soccer coaches and occupational therapists familiar with the unique needs of the kids.
Bello said: “Our mission is to help build pathways for inclusion learning and social integration while providing children with life skills that will enhance not only their physical development but their emotional, social and cognitive development as well.”
Turramurra mother Irene Hunter who has two sons Gavin, seven and James, five, both with autism, has seen encouraging improvements in the time they have been going. She said: “James, who also has ADHD, is better at following instructions, waiting his turn to have a go and kicking the ball to the coach rather than wandering off.
“And Gavin, who also has dyspraxia, has improved in making his body do what he wants it to do. He loves it so much he sings all the way home in his special sing-song way.”
A Soccajoeys spokesperson told The Monthly Chronicle that parents have reported a raft of improved skills including better reading and listening skills and improved gross motor planning – planning what physical action you want to do – which has positively impacted on everyday tasks like dressing and eating and on the child’s ability to organise themselves and learn new routines.
They also form new friendships and develop confidence and resilience – of the 200 kids that have taken part in the five years it has been running, one third have joined mainstream Soccajoeys programs and 15 others to mainstream soccer clubs. To enrol your child or to volunteer, go to www.soccajoeysfoundation.com.