Sports Academy: Grassroots youth program means soccer for all

The beauty of soccer is that it’s accessible to everyone.

And B.C. Soccer’s latest and inspiring partnership with Special Olympics B.C. (SOBC) couldn’t mirror that more as they invited seven SOBC teams to compete in the 2013 Youth Provincial Championships July 4 to 7.

SOBC players ranging in age from 12 years old and up, will compete July 6 and July 7, with four teams heading to the Girls Youth Provincial B Cup in North Vancouver and three to the Les Sinnott Memorial Boys Provincial Cup in Prince George.

“The focus on grassroots programming within the province should include all sectors of the game,” said B.C. Soccer’s director of soccer development, Michael Findlay. “And the grassroots theme — really it’s football for all, whether that may be athletes with disabilities or athletes with high performance or professional caliber.”

“The game of soccer from a global perspective has always been accessible to everybody and that’s the beauty of the game.”

And according to Findlay, the upcoming championship is just the “first step” in what he assumes will be a long-term partnership.

But that initial step is a big deal for SOBC athletes across the province.

“We’re (always) looking for competition opportunities,” said Shawn Fevens with Special Olympics B.C. “For the Special Olympics we do have a number of opportunities for competitions throughout the year, but nothing that provides us with the opportunity to showcase our athletes’ ability to the public.”

“We don’t get a huge spectator base coming out to watch our games . . . everybody gets more excited when you have the opportunity to have people cheering for you.”

It’s also a way to raise awareness of SOBC, which could not only bring fundraising opportunities to the non-profit organization, but also helps legitimize the players’ ability level.

“It also provides us with the opportunity to reach families that may have children or a child that may want to be involved,” added Fevens. “ And the more front of mind we are for the public, the more opportunities we’re going to get for further opportunities like this.”

Nearly 4,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities — like down syndrome, autism, Asberger’s — make up SOBC.

“Sports play a huge role in their lives,” said Fevens.“A lot of times our athletes don’t quite get provided the opportunity to participate in sports as they’re growing up, but Special Olympics kind of bridges that gap.”

“Through sport our athletes develop a lot of confidence and self-esteem in themselves, which I think leads to a bigger presence in the community — they get jobs, they go to school.”

While the organization caters to a variety of sports, soccer is their most popular, with about 25 teams spread out across the province.

In their game they follow FIFA rules, with the only differences being that teams play five on five on an adapted field about half the size of a regular one.

And in the upcoming tournament the teams will compete in the same location, with the same officials as the B.C. Soccer athletes.

“We’ll really be quite integrated into the competition,” said Fevens. “They’ll be awarded the same medals that B.C. Soccer athletes will be receiving as well.”

“But just being invited to this event is pretty prestigious for these teams — playing alongside some of the best women’s and men’s teams in the province and I think that’s kind of cool for them and I think they really take pride in that.”

The Girls Youth Provincial B Cup will take place at Inter-River park in North Vancouver, with the Les Sinnott Memorial Boys Provincial Cup at Rotary Park in Prince George.

And the following weekend, SOBC will head to Langley for the Special Olympics, where 1,500 athletes will compete in 11 different sports July 11 to 14 at Willoughby Community Park.


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