US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer) is a recreational sports program for children and adults with intellectual, emotional, or physical disabilities offered only through local US Youth Soccer-affiliated soccer clubs. TOPSoccer provides people with diverse abilities an opportunity to play soccer in a structured environment that is safe, fun, supportive, and inclusive.
Benefits for Participants
- SOCIAL SKILLS – Players interact with their volunteer Buddy and other athletes in a fun, group setting and learn proper social behaviors.
- TEAMWORK – Players learn to trust someone else and rely on them through soccer activities and games.
- PERSEVERANCE – Players might encounter difficulties with activities, but they will be encouraged to keep trying and overcome challenges.
- CONFIDENCE – Players will achieve success on the field that carries over to their lives off the field in so many ways!
Differentiators of TOPSoccer
- Buddies: Each participant is assigned a volunteer, trained ‘Buddy’ who is typically a little older and neurotypical. This Buddy works with their player individually and makes sure they are safe, engaged, supported, and having fun. The player-Buddy relationship is maintained throughout the course of a season, resulting in strong interpersonal bonds and an establishment of trust and confidence that allows each player to achieve their full potential.
- Coaches: TOPSoccer coaches and administrators have taken formal USYS education and certification training that assists them in successfully delivering the program. In addition to providing coaching strategies and tactics specifically for children with special needs, the training identifies the traits of the most common disabilities and provides guidance on how to modify typical soccer practice activities so everyone can be successful.
- Groupings: Players are grouped by ability, not just age, such that they can develop at their own pace and participate amongst others with similar abilities.
Why do we need a TOPSoccer Program?
TOPSoccer was formed to perpetuate the US Youth Soccer mission statement which is, in part, “to foster the physical, mental and emotional growth and development of America’s youth through the sport of soccer at all levels of age and competition.” There are thousands of children with disabilities who need and can be provided with, the opportunity to play soccer through the TOPSoccer program.
- Identify the need in your area. For what type of disabilities do you need to plan? Are you able to fulfill these needs?
- Check for any restrictions placed on the facility you plan to use. Are they equipped to handle athletes with physical disabilities?
- Check with your soccer insurance carrier.
- Contact established programs for information. (US Youth Soccer, Special Olympics, United Cerebral Pals, Shriners)
- Contact your local school districts and universities.
- Create a list of people who are able to assist you.
- Plan your advertisements.
- Reach out to MSA. WE ARE HERE TO HELP!
Creating your Program
- The unique thing about TOPSoccer is that each program is different and is created around the needs of the participants. Additionally, TOPSoccer athletes are placed on teams according to ability, not age.
- Length of program is determined by the organizer (6-8 weeks)
- Playing rules: Create rules to fit specific needs and use the US Youth Soccer Under-6, Under-8 or Under-10 guidelines
- TOPSoccer programs can have very modest beginnings.
- For those athletes not able to participate due to medical reasons, design a skills program that is rewarding, challenging and fun.
- Variety of choices: Small-sided games (3 v 3, 4 v 4, 8 v 8, etc.), full-sided games (11v11), unified teams (ratio of challenged athletes to non-challenged athletes), indoor programs outdoor program, camp, skills only
- Above all… keep it simple… KEEP IT FUN!
Placement and Registration of Athletes
- Registration procedures should be the same as those used for regular league teams: should include a section for medical history. Athletes with Down syndrome should be required to have a current x-ray. If the x-ray is positive for their safety, it should be strongly recommended that they do not take part in team play, and in some cases, medical waivers may be required.
- Placement is made by ability, not age.
- Assessment tests should be made available upon request.
- Ensure that the experience is meaningful for the participating athletes and one in which they feel they have made a contribution.
- Use color coded goals or nets (e.g., red goals/yellow nets).
- Have scrimmage vests available.
- Have a ball for each athlete.
- HAVE FUN!
- Costs vary depending upon your registration fees and insurance fees, and uniform and equipment costs. MSA is here to help!
- Cost should be kept low and affordable to all possible participants.
- There are philanthropic entities, such as the Shriners which offer assistance. Research others in the local community (Lions Clubs, Rotary Clubs, etc.).
- Approach local companies or corporations for cash or in-kind donations.
- Contact local universities, schools, and soccer clubs for volunteers. The State Coach or Director of Coaching for the state association is also a good source for coaches. No special training is required, however, it is available through US Youth Soccer and state association-sponsored coaching courses as well as through Special Olympics.