It was a typical rainy, fall Saturday at the park, but it would take more than gray skies and a chilly drizzle to keep these determined athletes off the field. Soccer games on Saturday mornings have become commonplace and expected in every community. Residence flock to the park no matter what the weather to watch as their children or family members routinely participates in the weekly suburban ritual.
Though Saturday morning soccer played under a gray October sky may not sound all that unusual, the American Youth Soccer Organization VIP (Very Important Player) soccer program is not your ordinary sports program. Their motto, ‘Everyone Plays’ describes only part of what this unique organization hopes to accomplish. The VIP soccer program was established to provide the opportunity for those children and adults whose physical or mental disabilities prevent them from participating in mainstream sports programs.
A typical VIP team may be made up of individuals with Down syndrome or mental retardation, autism, cerebral palsy, emotional disturbances and visual impairments. The program is also open to individuals with conditions that may impair mobility, strength and / or comprehension.
VIP teams play with as few as three players on a team. The athletes are assigned to teams to promote proper balance, the criteria being size, mobility and ability rather than by age or gender. There are no upper age limits in this program, the athletes can play as long as they want to or are able.
According to the American Association of Adapted Sports Programs web site, a 1997-98 study conducted by researchers from Emory University and the University of Georgia evaluated the effects of participants with no athletic or sports experience who participated their AdaptedSports™ program. The results were remarkable. The new adaptive athletes experienced as much as 66% improvement in strength, coordination, flexibility and overall endurance. Decreased behavioral problems and increased academic performance were noted as well as improved social interaction with other students and a general positive effect on their family.
Adapted sports can improve the adaptive athlete’s health and self esteem. The competitive nature exists at some level in all of us. Adaptive sports allow children and young adults with physical impairments to participate in a fun competitive atmosphere forming new relationships with athletes who all face similar challenges. Adaptive sports or fitness programs can be a rewarding experience for the entire family
The VIP program has been a blessing for many parents, family members and care givers who never thought it possible for their child to participate in competitive sports, meet new friends and have a great time out on the field of play, even on a gray, rainy day. Because of important programs like VIP, the families of these determined athletes can sit back and enjoy watching their children or family members participate and most important of all, have fun.