The 2018 US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer East and South Regions Symposium, hosted by Georgia Soccer Association, took place in late March in Atlanta. The event featured nearly 50 attendees who represented 21 US Youth Soccer State Associations from the two regions.
“It’s great to get people from different State Associations in the same room over a weekend to share ideas on how TOPSoccer is working in their area of the country,” said Ed DeMulder, the US Youth Soccer East Region TOPSoccer Chair. “There is nothing but growth that can come out of that scenario. Networking is so critical to this because a lot of time TOPSoccer coaches or administrators feel they’re in a bubble by themselves. The opportunity for people to get together and share their experiences is invaluable.”
US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer) is a community-based training and team placement program for young athletes with disabilities, organized by youth soccer association volunteers. The program is designed to bring the opportunity of learning and playing soccer to any boy or girl, who has a mental or physical disability.
The symposium featured several speakers who highlighted TOPSoccer’s benefits, potential adaptations, areas for growth and more. In addition to the expert presentations, 27 people attended and completed a TOPSoccer Coaching Certification Course, taught by former US Youth Soccer Director of Coaching Sam Snow.
Subject matter experts from Kennesaw State University and Georgia State University shared current thinking on working with children with special needs. Kennesaw State’s Tristan Glenn said TOPSoccer is using the game as a means to create an environment of inclusion and acceptance that fosters social skills, confidence and physical fitness.
The symposium also featured a motivating session with U.S. Soccer Paralympic Team head coach Stuart Sharp, who was accompanied by a U.S. Soccer PNT player with cerebral palsy on his left side. By showing the determination to play the game, they enlightened the room to the possibilities for TOPSoccer participants.
“Children with disabilities who love the game of soccer have opportunities beyond what they may imagine,” DeMulder said. “Players can go from TOPSoccer or recreation soccer to the highest level of competition, such as the national Paralympic team.”
An annual highlight of the symposiums comes from a panel with local TOPSoccer parents and coaches. The meeting in Atlanta was no different, as participants shared ideas and key points...
- Programs that make parents and players feel as if they’re part of a family are the programs that parents want to be involved with and bring their children.
- Good communication is critical. It’s paramount for coaches to update parents on meetings, field changes, weather, and so on. Extra communication is critical to parents of children with disabilities.
- Coaches can use methods of communication to start the fun. Emails that are light-hearted and get parents and players laughing create a welcoming culture with a program.
- Coaches can make practices and play sessions fun, but it takes help and effort on the administrative and operational side to allow a TOPSoccer program to reach its full potential.
Click here for more information on TOPSoccer, including guides, resources and tips on how to start a program.