Temecula Valley Soccer Academy (TVSA), a regional recreational soccer club, is built on the platform that “Everyone plays.”
TVSA’s TOPSoccer—The Outreach Program for Soccer—ensures that disabled children, regardless of disability, get a chance to enjoy the team soccer experience, too.
“Every one of our TOPSoccer families are amazing,” Linda Norton, director of TVSA TOPSoccer, said. “Our numbers have more than doubled this spring with the addition of coach, Aundrea.”
According to Norton, coaching special needs soccer comes naturally to Aundrea Whitacre, whose brother is on the autism spectrum.
“The addition of (Aundrea) has made a tremendous difference in the experience the TOPSoccer kids had this spring,” Norton said. “Aundrea has experience both playing soccer, and coaching, and she also has a total heart for kids with all levels of needs.”
Kids who play in the TOPSoccer program are separated into groups by ability, and not age.
“We have kids with different levels of special needs, from mild autism to severe Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, kids with limited mobility. All are treated with respect, and given the team experience.”
The TOPSoccer program, designed for special needs athletes from age four to 17-years-old, stresses player development over competition. Each child gets a uniform, a trophy, and complimentary pictures.
“Our parents get to sit back for an hour a week and just be parents, watching their kids play on the field,” Norton said. “We do have many siblings and family members who take part as ‘peer buddies’ for our players, too, which works great for everyone.”
The basic TOPSoccer strategies are built around the concept of fun, according to the TVSA website. A player’s success can be gauged based upon personal ability, self-esteem improvement, fitness and social skills, as well as the sense of belonging that being part of a team engenders.
“Our kids get to take part in obstacle courses, programs designed based upon ability and level of need,” said Norton. “Our peer buddies help the kids, and it’s amazing the sensitivity many of them have, such as the girls U-12 Signature soccer team, and their coach, Dan Settle who came out to play.”
Settle, also a member of the TVSA board of directors, geared up his team to aid in a TOPSoccer practice as “peer buddies” teaching them in advance what it means to be a special needs buddy on the soccer field.
“When Coach Dan and his girls came out, it was amazing to see those girls out there in full uniform, playing a game with our TOPSoccer kids,” said Norton. “They really felt like they were playing against a real team. There was positive reinforcement, no fear, everyone buddied up right away. The girls on the U-12 team were amazing with their positive reinforcement of our players.”
Settle wanted his Signature team to participate, so that they would have the opportunity to make someone else’s day a little bit better.
“As a coach, I feel it is important to develop character traits in our players as well as their individual soccer skills,” Coach Settle said. “The game of soccer can teach us many things about life and I feel it is important to give back to the community whenever and wherever we can.”
Volunteering for TOPSoccer brings awareness and understanding to the special needs community, according to Norton. Volunteer jobs range from helping run practices to coordinating games.
“Kids can receive community service hours by acting as a ‘soccer buddy,’ or volunteering at a TOPSoccer program activity,” Norton said. “The families also help act as ‘buddies,’ but we like to have them sit back and watch, to make memories they can keep forever.”
Part of the lasting memories are the photo packages, offered in spring 2015 by MVP Studios owner, Andy Stockglausner. MVP offered each family a memory matte composite, including the team and individual photo, four wallet sized photographs, and a player button. A heartfelt gesture for a family with many extra challenges in their lives.
“This was actually our first year photographing TVSA but it went extremely well, and we look forward to a long term relationship with this customer. We donate packages to the special needs programs to all of our local leagues,” Stockglausner said. “Photographing these kids is a lot of fun, and our photographers love it.”
“We truly appreciate MVP Studio’s generosity and partnership with our league,” Norton said. “It’s so meaningful to get to watch these parents see their kids socializing for the first time. To watch their children participate, to make a friend, if there is just one thing they hope to gain from the TOPSoccer experience, we can help them achieve that. That’s why we do this.”
The fall 2015 program, currently open for registration, includes a full uniform and trophy for each player, for the $45 registration fee.
Fall registration is currently underway on the TVSA website. For more information, visit www.TVSA.org or follow TVSA on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tvsarec