Soccer Program for Youth with Disabilities is a GO!

“The goSoccer program means Katie can have a typical sports experience, just like her sister and brother,” says Kelly Watkins, whose daughter Katie has played since the program for youth with mental and physical challenges began in the fall of 2008. According to coordinator Amy Peal, a typical sports experience is just what Rehab Associates hoped for when they established Paducah’s goSoccer as part of the national TOPSoccer program. The purpose of the program is to enrich the lives of young athletes with disabilities through the game of soccer.

Spring and fall playing seasons are held each year, with between 15 and 20 athletes participating each season thus far. “We typically meet for 45 minutes to an hour each session, and we play 8 to 10 sessions each season,” explains Amy. “Players are given a soccer shirt, and just like recreational soccer, we have pictures taken and celebrate with an end-of-season party with food and trophies.”

An important part of goSoccer is the “buddy program.” A volunteer is paired with each player to guide and protect them during play. “Many youth in our community have participated as buddies,” says Amy. “Their support and participation is critical to this program being a success, and at the same time it provides them an opportunity to fulfill community service hours.”

Kelly agrees the buddy program is valuable. “The buddies are great, and I know they learn as much from the experience as they teach,” she explains. “I have always felt an obligation to not only teach my daughter how to live in the world, but teach the world how to live with my daughter and others like her.”

Participation in goSoccer is not limited by geographic area. Players from McCracken, Ballard, Graves, Hopkins, and Caldwell Counties in KY, and Massac County, IL, have participated. Games are held at the Paducah Regional Sports Plex on Highway 60 west of Kentucky Oaks Mall. “Players have an optimal environment on the indoor soccer field at the Sports Plex,” says Amy, “and parents are able to watch the drills and plays through the glass wall.”

Soon beginning its fifth season, the idea for goSoccer started when a community member approached Rehab Associates and goPerformance owner Mark Vance about establishing a soccer team for kids with disabilities. Mark agreed such a program was needed, and the Rehab Associates Foundation secured a United Way Emerging Needs grant for initial funding. The Foundation partnered with the McCracken County Youth Soccer Association and a committee of professionals with backgrounds in physical and occupational therapy, social services, and behavioral therapy to establish the program.

Kelly says goSoccer is an overwhelming success. “Children with disabilities want and need to be treated the same as all others. Sports is a wonderful teaching tool. Discipline, rules, and teamwork are the skills needed in the everyday world, not just on a field.

“When I see the look on my daughter’s face as she achieves a goal or receives a participation trophy, then pumps her fist in the air and shouts, ‘I did it!’ I think to myself, yes Katie, you did it. Thank you, goSoccer.”

More information about goSoccer is available at 270.744.0631 or www.rehabassociatesky.com/foundation. Click on Programs.