By Mark Squibb/August 5, 2022
CBS Soccer has kicked off a novel program this summer to allow children with special needs and conditions to participate in the beautiful game.
The Star Development Program, as it is called, is being organized and run by three CBS soccer graduates.
“It was back in 2020 that we first thought that we could expand our programming here at CBS Soccer,” said one of the developers and coaches, Jenny Bent. “We had the staff, and we had the resources to expand our community. So, (this summer) we created these six week-long programs for anyone of any ability, or any exceptionality. And we had upwards of 40 register for the program, and at least 30 who have come to every single session so far.”
Bent, along with fellow organizers and coaches Rebecca Rideout and Emily Rowe, used some advice provided by Melissa Tobin, a woman with experience in developing programs for children with special needs, in developing their own program for CBS Soccer from the ground up.
Previously, the club had offered special ‘inclusion events,’ aimed at those who may not feel quite comfortable playing regular soccer.
“The inclusion days were great, but it was challenging, and it was a little intimidating to make the program bigger,” said Rideout. “But when Jenny reached out and asked up to help with this, I think we had a lot to work with. The three of us all played soccer, we’re all very involved in the club, both in the past and the present, we all did psychology degrees, and we all have experience with these populations.”
Volunteers with Easter Seals, Rainbow Riders, and Special Olympics help with the program, along with a bevy of CBS Soccer volunteers, who have received training from the Autism Society.
“We have people of all abilities and we’ve made sure that we’re prepared for it by seeking out help from other organizations,” said Bent. “We sought out help from the Autism Society, so every coach that had not received training before, received training from the Autism Society. They came here are ran a session to make sure everybody knew what to expect, how to speak with these athletes, and how to make sure everybody is involved.”
For each event, which are held every second weekend, there is a ratio of about one coach for every athlete or two, meaning that coaches can spend more one-on-one time with the participants.
There is also much more emphasis on fun than on the soccer itself.
“It gives an extra opportunity for athletes who don’t feel comfortable in the other programs that could be a bit more competitive or intense,” said Rowe. “In our program, we developed the drills and the games around their abilities. And we have enough coaches that if the abilities are different among the athletes, we can adapt and change our game.”
Included in the program are mobility drills, coordination drills, teamwork training, and fun fitness. Parents, siblings, and friends are invited to join in the fun.
The program is designed to be welcoming and inclusive to all, as volunteers work to eliminate any barriers that may prevent athletes from signing up.
“There’s someone to greet you at the door, we walk you to the section of the field that we’ll be on, the coaches wear yellow, and players are provided a blue shirt just so everyone is easily identifiable,” said Bent. “There’s name tags for everyone, and stickers at the end. So, it’s fun and welcoming right from the start.”
Photos of the field and soccer hut can even be e-mailed to participants ahead of time, so families know exactly what to expect when they arrive.
Volunteers hope the program meets the needs of families, and say such inclusive activities are sadly lacking in society at large.
“Especially, since COVID, what we have heard from a lot of people, from parents, is that there is a lack of programming for kids in this population,” said Rowe. “So, when we created the program, parents were super grateful to have the opportunity to have their kid participate in a program where they’re comfortable, and they can talk with like-minded parents.”
Folks who are interested in joining can register on the CBS Soccer website.
“We basically send out an e-mail, and say, ‘There’s a session this Sunday, please RSVP,’ because it’s not an obligation or a commitment,” said Rideout. “So, for each session, we probably have 30 to 40 register from the 50 registered, and about 20 to 30 come.”
Rowe said the program has exceed the group’s expectations, but there is more room to grow.
“We would love to have even more participants, because I think we have the coaches and the resources to handle it,” she said.