NDG Lions soccer program lets children with intellectual, developmental disabilities shoot for success
Participants in the summer soccer program get more focused attention
When Chris Simeone was growing up with dyslexia, he says he often felt pushed to the side in group sports programs.
"I had difficulty aiming, understanding positioning of where I'm supposed to be on the soccer field," Simeone said. "Coaches didn't understand that I had a special need."
Soon after, he quit.
It's part of the reason why he wanted to help run a program for kids with similar special needs.
For the past three years, NDG Soccer has been running the NDG Lions program for children aged seven to 12, who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. The program's motto is to offer "soccer for everyone."
Participants in the summer soccer program get individualized attention, with one to two kids per coach, depending on the turnout. The group meets on Wednesdays and Sundays, from June through August.
NDG Soccer reached out to Simeone when the program kicked off, and he's been the program's coordinator ever since.
Simeone is a certified Special Olympics learning facilitator, which means he can train other coaches to work with people with disabilities.
Unlike other types of soccer practice, the NDG Lions work on specific skills based on athletes' performance, which is evaluated in the first session. Coaches group children together based on their specific skills. For example, if a participant is good at running, they will be placed with other children who are also good at running and run at a similar pace.
Coach Emma Colucci says the program is important because it offers an opportunity to be part of a team.
"I think that's really important to have them be included and show them that sports and soccer is for anybody," Colucci said.
More than a sport
Simeone says the program is about more than simply learning to play a sport.
"It gives them the chance to be an athlete, but also be part of a community, which is really cool," he said.
He says he's witnessed the growth of the program — and the impact it's had on the children involved — firsthand.
Simeone wants more sports organizations to get Special Olympics training for their coaches so more children with disabilities can have the opportunity to learn sports.
"The real goal at the end of the day is that they learn these basic skills here so they can go into regular games. They might come to us first," he said.
Numbers have been growing for the NDG Lions. In the program's first year, 10 kids signed up. Now, about 20 will come to practice regularly.
With files from CBC's Verity Stevenson