TOPSoccer Teams Up with SoccerCity
Grow the Game.
It’s a phrase that’s tagged on thousands of social media posts, related to various sports at a grassroots level. Grow the Game is often invoked when it comes to providing or generating opportunities for children and other overlooked facets of the sporting ether. On Sunday, April 22nd, I found myself that the heart of these movements isn’t in competition or technical ability, but in smiles, teamwork and community.
In early April, an invitation floated my way to volunteer for a clinic hosted by TopSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer) & SoccerCity. Normally I might consider and then ultimately reject such a request for my time in favor of a lazy Sunday afternoon. However, having a brother with Down's Syndrome & Autism growing up compelled me to set aside a couple hours for what I figured at worst would be fumbling awkwardly through drills & games with the kids.
TOPSoccer 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 goal is to enable the thousands of young athletes with disabilities to become valued and successful members of the soccer community.
When I arrived I met a few like-minded volunteers, some who played soccer regularly in adult leagues and others who hadn’t played in some time. Talking about the soccer clubs we supported or what part of town we were from, finding out that someone who went to my high school at the same time I did, instantly tying my past to my present, forging connections with people you might otherwise pass in a grocery store without a tracking glance.
Then the kids started showing up. Some were part of local soccer clubs, others just enjoyed any chance they got to play or were part of the TOPSoccer family. After a handful had convened, we began kicking balls around a large circle of all in attendance, some showing off flourishes of skill, while most just trying to warm their feet up. I had the pleasure of meeting Josh, who remarked that he thought my mustache was cool, which almost instantly validated the decision to volunteer itself.
Once everyone had checked in, we came together and took a knee for Coach Carrie Taylor from SoccerCity as she introduced the group to the headliner star athlete, World Cup winner and Olympic Gold Medalist Shannon Mac Millan. In addition to being part of the SoccerCity team, Mac Millan is a San Diego native who now directs the Del Mar Carmel Valley Sharks Soccer Club. She ran us through a series of exercises to warm up for some scrimmages.
Also of note, was the human sized hoof Footy McFooty Face, the one-time internet poll prank turned April Fools Day joke turned symbol and mascot for SoccerCity’s youth outreach who the athletes found to be a constant source of pictures and hi-fives.
Coach Shannon pepped up the group and broke us into lines to do ladder footwork where I was assigned the task of leading a line of kids. I have large feet, moving them quickly can be challenging and did not want to bring dishonor to Josh and the other members of my group looking to me to lead them, so enthusiastically I hopped through the rungs only to turn around and see the kids executing the same technique much more proficiently and actually going three times through each direction (even though they only were told they had to do two). I could feel the confidence in my abilities had ruminated with the kids as well, when they transitioned to the next dribbling exercise and began to work as groups to communicate and avoid the “freezers” during dribble tag.
The progression from the drills to the games brought out some of the more talented attendees' skills, but what I loved most was looking at the smiles on faces of the ones who were just running around the field, loving being part of a team where they could express themselves through their play. It was then that I noticed a familiar face, a neighbor of mine who I had seen walking around with his family before and waved to casually but never actually had a conversation with. Turns out, he’s a big soccer and sports fan who has trouble using spoken language to communicate but finds playing to be an outlet for connecting with other kids on with his feet.
All of this took place in just over an hour, and as the young athletes filed off the field where I had graduated a decade or so before, it was clear that THIS is what #growthegame is really about. It is about growing hearts and minds through the universal language of a simple game, played by children. In a time where divisiveness bleeds into all aspects of our society, it is in these values we can build the bedrock for a happier, more connected community.