One of the biggest challenges in growing the AYSO VIP (Very Important Player) Program is convincing parents that their child or adult can benefit from playing soccer.
Many parents think of soccer as a game that's too fast, too active and potentially unsafe for their child, especially if that child has ambulatory, sensory or vision issues.
Since 2011, AYSO Region 154 in Cypress, Calif. has conducted a post season online survey with VIP parents and care givers to better understand how to address those concerns. The results have been dramatic:
• 85 to 90 percent typically ‘strongly agree’ or ‘agree’ with the statement, “VIP Soccer has helped improve my child’s physical skills, behaviors and socialization.”
• Another 90 percent rates their satisfaction with VIP as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good.’
• 95 percent have said the program is meeting its vision of “Improving the lives of children and adults with disabilities through soccer.”
What’s behind the success for Region 154? One important strategy has been to connect the program with applied behavioral analysis therapists through one of its sponsors, Creative Behavior Interventions, Inc. of Tustin, Calif. ABA is an intensive set of therapy practices designed to assist children with autism and other disabilities. It divides specific activities into small steps that can be built upon to lead to the desired skill and behavior over time and through repetition.
Eighteen employees of CBI volunteered nearly 170 hours on Saturday mornings, during the 10 week 2013 VIP season. “They loved it and many looked forward to seeing their favorite players on Saturdays. It’s a great experience for them in an outdoor, community setting,” said Mary Tran, Vice President of Administration at CBI.
CBI also sponsors $1,000 in scholarships for four high school seniors who go “Above and Bee-Yond” in their time and effort for the Region 154 VIP-Buddy program. These are the main stream kids that accompany VIP players on the field when they are needed. Following nomination and validation by coaches and team parents, winners receive a plaque and $250 for college tuition. They are celebrated at Region VIP events and publicized in local media.
Ben Singer, the parent volunteer who runs Region 154’s VIP program, helped bring his Region and CBI together. He sees direct benefits to the collaboration for VIP. “It allows VIP coaches to better focus on coaching,” he says. “When behavioral challenges are being managed by competent volunteers, we can focus on running practice and games better. That way, every player gets the most from us. Likewise, high school students who are buddies have a mentor they can turn to for assistance by CBI being on site.”
“It’s really a best practice we developed after having 150 players and, frankly, we needed it,” Singer said. “One of our advisory board parents uses CBI for her son’s ABA therapy. They thought CBI could help fill our need for buddies and volunteers. She was spot-on and today we’re growing together, refining one another’s roles and collaborating to serve children and adults better in our community.”