TOPSoccer Q&A: Zach Saliterman talks about being a TOPSoccer Buddy
Zach Saliterman was named the 2015 US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer Buddy of the Year. This fall was his 13th season in the West Morris SC TOPSoccer program, which his family founded, and his fifth running the program in its entirety. Saliterman has logged over 100 hours as a buddy and director. He handles all aspects of the program, including session plans, recruiting volunteers and players, managing equipment and securing field space. The high school senior continues to offer players a safe and supportive environment to learn the game.
Q: How did you first get involved with soccer?
I started with soccer when I was 10 years old. Both my brother and sister played, so I decided to try out for my travel soccer team. I made the team and that’s how I started as I player.
Q: How’d you get started with TOPSoccer?
I started getting involved when I was 11. My brother started a TOPSoccer program in our community, and once he left for college my sister took over the program. Once she left for college three years ago, I took over the program and I’ve been running the program ever since.
Q: High schoolers have lots of things competing for your time, so why did you choose to be a TOPSoccer buddy?
At the beginning, my parents were telling me I shouldn’t volunteer because I was so young but I was really eager to try it out to see what it was like. After the first session, it was such a rewarding experience to make such a great impact on one kid’s life. Usually these kids with special needs are kind of shunned out of the community and aren’t invited to play recreational soccer and this is their first opportunity to play. So I get to share the great experience of playing soccer, just like I had, with these kids and that makes me feel great.
Q: How do you get other kids excited to be a TOPSoccer Buddy?
I explain to them my experience with the program and how it’s had a great impact on my life. It’s so much fun to work with these kids who are really fun. It truly feels great to see how big of an impact you can have on one of these kids’ lives.
Q: Is there a favorite activity all the TOPSoccer kids seem to like?
There is this one game we play called “sleeping giant.” What happens is you start at the halfway line and you have one or two people who are asleep in the goal. The other players dribble up to the giant and wake up them up and the giant screams and runs and tries to tag everyone else and they have to run back to the halfway line without getting tagged.
Another game they like to play is “red light, green light,” or they’ll like to kick around one of our huge soccer balls. They love to shoot those.
Q: Do you feel having the opportunity to play soccer makes these kids more confident?
What tends to happen with the new kids, is the first couple of weeks of their first season they’re kind of shy and they don’t want to play as much. And then, slowly and slowly as time goes on, they get more and more involved with it. They’re nervous at first to play, but they realize how much fun it is and being around the other players helps them gain some confidence.
Q: Do you have a favorite TOPSoccer moment?
I don’t have one in particular, but there was this one time after I was working with one of the players. The session was over and he went over to his mom and was like, “Can I keep playing with Zach. I want to keep playing soccer.” She told him, “No we have to leave but you can play more next week.” It was just that he didn’t want soccer to end, he wanted it to keep going because he loved it so much. It is great to see the kids enjoy the experience that much.
Q: What does it mean to the parents for their kids to have this chance to play TOPSoccer?
The parents definitely appreciate it. Almost every week a parent comes up to me thanking me for all the work I do and how great it is for them. They typically don’t get to have that much time away from managing their kid. At TOPSoccer, they know their kid is out there having fun, and it’s all under control so they can still take the time to relax and just enjoy their child playing soccer.
Q: Is TOPSoccer something you want to keep doing after high school?
I think I’ll have to see when I go to college next year if they have a program nearby. If they do, I’d definitely be interested in getting involved. When I come back from college in the spring I’ll be able to make most of the sessions, so I’ll definitely keep volunteering at the session our program is running.
Q: What advice would you give to the kids who are buddies or are thinking about becoming buddies?
I would tell them to just have fun with it. That’s the purpose of the program – to have fun playing soccer. If they do volunteer with a TOPSoccer program, they should try to make it as fun as they can. If you don’t have fun with it, it’s not going to be a fun experience. But if you make it a fun experience for the player, it will be a great time and experience for the player and the buddy.
Learn more about the TOPSoccer program here.