STOP! THINK BACK! You’re going into a high school gym as an elementary student for your first day of soccer for the year. This day is special because it will be your first sport practice ever. When you get there, you realize you only recognize one person other than your family members that came to watch. Would you stay? Would you ask to leave right away?
Would it matter if someone told you that 10 years later you would still be participating, or that the people you met that first year would be your best friends 20 years later?
It’s been over 20 years since I started TOPSoccer. I first found out about the soccer league from my physical therapist, who worked with the coach. TOPSoccer according to the website:
…is designed to provide an opportunity of socialization, learning, and physical activity to any boy or girl, typically ages 5-19, who has a cognitive or physical disability.”Meghan Ward, Program Administrator; USYS TOPSoccer & Wisconsin Youth Soccer Association, 2020
Each concentration of the mission statement changed how I lived from that point forward. Some were physically, while other areas were more character traits or choices I ended up making later in life.
Lets start with the most obvious factor that TOPSoccer allowed; physical activity. TOPSoccer was my first sport and the one that lasted the longest. I joined the 1999-2000 team and stayed on the team until the end of spring season in 2009. The team allowed me to have a dedicated area to have intense physical activity without major risks or fear of not being able to participate. Each Saturday between September and March, I could have a place to go outside of school and not stand out purely because of my disability. We all were the same in this regard.
As I got older, I got stronger and was able to control my chair and body. A few years after starting TOPSoccer parents from the team started a T-ball team that allowed us to stay active during June and July each year. These activities allowed us to have a physical activity outside of what we could do during our school gym classes. By the end of college, when the opportunity was made available, I joined a dance class that turned into a year-long program.
Socialization & Learning
Every activity created an atmosphere of socialization, allowing us to learn. The first form of socialization that has lasted the longest were the friendships I made. I met several friends, who I would call my best friends, through TOPSoccer. We have been there for each other from day one. It hasn’t mattered that we were in different school districts or couldn’t see each other all the time; we made it work. Without TOPSoccer, I don’t think we would have met or if we had, it would have been when we were adults.
Each child didn’t have the same disability but because of this we could learn from each other on the differences and the similarities. This could have been learning sign language, different definitions of personal space or not pushing a friend’s wheelchair without them asking. It also created a network of parents who could answer questions about where to go for different services that are hard to find without knowing someone in the service.
As a kid I was super talkative who would talk to almost anyone; it didn’t matter if it was a classmate, a teacher, a friend’s parent, the person checking us out at the grocery store or the person who stopped to ask questions to me or one of my parents. Some of the questions weren’t always the best but they were a learning opportunity of how to handle uncomfortable situations. I will address this specific topic later on, as this is something that deserves its own attention as was part of the reason I started this blog.
Because of these interactions starting early on, I participated in public speaking clubs from kindergarten through senior year of high school. The skills learned opened opportunities to give speeches at several events over my lifetime. The one relating to TOPSoccer was one the last with the team as a whole. I was able to give awards to the three high school student coaches we had at their graduation award nights.
Shop for FINISH by AJ Bocchini
Everyone has a different activity that creates the opportunities that TOPSoccer did for me. I recently read the book FINISH by AJ Bocchini. AJ and I went to college together. His book is an autobiography on his life through college and how sports were just as big of a part of his life as his family and friends and how they are all a part of who he is now. The events he retells are so descriptive that feels like you are there as they happened. AJ gave me permission to post the link to his shop, so you can get your own copy of the book.
If you would like to learn where to join a local TOPSoccer league for someone you know follow the link below. They also have national chapters.
Comment below or on my social media accounts topics that you would like to hear next or questions you may have for me. Don’t forget to check AJ’s book as well. See you next time!!