Soccer is a game that can be enjoyed by people big and small, young and old.
There is no prerequisite for skills or knowledge of the game. You don’t need the fancy shorts, jerseys or $100 cleats that all the soccer superfans wear.
All you need is a little free time, a willingness to learn, and an opportunity to play.
And that’s exactly what TOP Soccer is providing a group of locals kids with this spring.
“The Outreach Program for Soccer” is a national soccer program created to train young people with disabilities in a caring coaching environment, in which the player-to-coach ratio is nearly one to one.
Oregon Youth Soccer Association helps sponsor the program locally, and for the past three Mondays, a group of 12 “teen trainers” have been working with coordinators Roxanne McClure and John Ritter at Hood River Middle School to share the game of soccer with 15 special needs children in the community.
“This is the easiest soccer activity I’ve ever organized,” said McClure, who worked with the Dynamos Soccer Club for years. “Everyone is so excited to be here, and all the parents, players and teen trainers love it.”
The weekly one-hour program teaches kids the basics of soccer, as well as the importance of things like conditioning, stretching and unabated fun.
“The kids are there more for the exercise and the friendships than to win games,” said McClure, a teacher at Horizon Christian School.
“It’s all about participation,” she said. “There is no emphasis on winning or losing. The object is to get the players as many touches on the ball as possible, and to see the connection between them and their teammates on the field.”
The typical one-hour session involves a short warm-up, a game of Sharks and Minnows, and as much running and kicking as the players can handle.
“I really enjoy helping kids learn the game because I feel as though I have something to teach,” said Sean Rawson, a sophomore at Hood River Valley High School who plays on the varsity team.
“It feels good to see the kids smile when they’re kicking the ball around, and TOP Soccer has made me realize how important this game is to them. You get out of it more than you put in, that’s for sure,” he said.
Other teen trainers joining Rawson this year have been Michael Stenberg, Isaiah Simmons, Jenna Ritter, Becca and Elie Meierbachtol, Lindsay McClure, Tabitha Howell, Jeromy Davis, and Tim, Daniel and Jill Chance.
Roxanne McClure said that TOP Soccer offers a positive learning experience for both the teen trainers as well as the players.
“The teens have really taken hold of the fact that they’re not here for themselves,” she said. “They are here for the kids, and they have really taken ownership of that responsibility.”
McClure said the best thing about TOP Soccer is that everyone who gets involved doesn’t want it to end. And, due to the popularity of the program, plans are in the works to continue TOP Soccer once a month throughout the summer.
“Even if I didn’t want to do TOP Soccer, I couldn’t not do it,” McClure said. “There is so much support from everyone involved and people can’t wait to get out and play again.”
TOP Soccer is sponsored by the OYSA, as well as PowerBar and Uniroyal Tires. McClure said that the connection to local schools has also been helpful in getting the word out. For more, call McClure at 387-3012.