Episode 54:

Soccajoeys: Taking the Next Step

Taking the ‘Next Step’

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. One of the great things about working at The Inclusion Club is that you come across some really fantastic programs and work. Sometimes on your own doorstep. This episode is all about one of those discoveries.

The Inclusion Club—Episode54 CoverThe Soccajoeys Foundation was founded in 2013 and came out of an existing Soccajoeys soccer skills program for children aged three to eight years, operating out of Sydney. The potential of the Soccajoeys program as a vehicle to promote inclusion was the vision of Jose Bello back in 2010. Jose founded the Foundation specifically to raise finances to fund the Next Step and Connect programs. We are going to take a look at the Next Step program in this episode and we think you are going to like what you see here. First, let’s meet Jose and let him introduce what the Soccajoeys Foundation and the Next Step program are all about:

While the Next Step program achieves many things, it’s main objective is the inclusion of participants into local soccer clubs and programs. Of the 104 children that have so far participated in the program, 34 have joined the regular Soccajoeys program and, from these, 9 have since joined regular soccer clubs and regular school programs. So how do they do it? What are the hallmarks of inclusion for the Next Step program? Here we pick out three.

Small groups and skill development

The Inclusion Club—Episode54 Kids Playing SoccerAs Jose explained, they run sessions with relatively small groups of 8 – 10 children, often where the children with disability have siblings or friends attending. This helps in a number of ways as children interact and become familiar with others and their surroundings quickly. This has a number of benefits, not least—improvements speech and language skills—developing social skills—and friendships.

Initially, sessions are focused on playing together in a team environment and getting used to the social aspect of the program so the children feel comfortable. Then they work on basic skill development, all the time with the goal of preparing children for possible transition into a local club setting. Parents are encouraged to join in and are always fully aware that the goal of the program is the transition into a local setting. How long this takes depends on each individual child and how they progress over time.

While the Next Step program achieves many things, it’s main objective is the inclusion of participants into local soccer clubs and programs. Of the 104 children that have so far participated in the program, 34 have joined the regular Soccajoeys program and, from these, 9 have since joined regular soccer clubs and regular school programs. So how do they do it? What are the hallmarks of inclusion for the Next Step program? Here we pick out three.

Small groups and skill development

The Inclusion Club—Episode54 Kids Playing SoccerAs Jose explained, they run sessions with relatively small groups of 8 – 10 children, often where the children with disability have siblings or friends attending. This helps in a number of ways as children interact and become familiar with others and their surroundings quickly. This has a number of benefits, not least—improvements speech and language skills—developing social skills—and friendships.

Initially, sessions are focused on playing together in a team environment and getting used to the social aspect of the program so the children feel comfortable. Then they work on basic skill development, all the time with the goal of preparing children for possible transition into a local club setting. Parents are encouraged to join in and are always fully aware that the goal of the program is the transition into a local setting. How long this takes depends on each individual child and how they progress over time.

Parental involvement

The involvement of parents in the transition process is very important. While this may seem obvious, it is all too easy, and common, for parents to sit back and be happy simply seeing their child participate in a program. The larger and more long term benefits come from the transition into a regular ongoing program so it’s important that the parents are fully aware of what this entails and are working with the Next Step instructors toward this goal constantly. When the time is right the parents and the child, with the help of Next Step, can make that transition, safe in the knowledge that this is what they set out to achieve.

Mirroring local club structure and skills

The Inclusion Club—Episode54: Kids talking to their coachThe success of the transition process can be very dependent on familiarity. The children on the Next Step program need to be familiar with the type of setting and the program elements of their local community club as much as possible. This is particularly important for the cohort of children attending the Next Step program who struggle to transfer skills and behaviours learnt in one environment to a new environment.

Mirroring the local community program is as much about preparing the club as it is the child and the parent. Jose and his team are clearly aware of this and have taken time to build those all important relationships with local clubs. He also is planning to expand this network by conducting information sessions and workshops with clubs as a way of introducing them to the children from the Next Step program. Very smart!

You can see that the approach that Jose has taken with Next Step is to position themselves very much as a ‘connector’—giving the children a valuable experience through soccer yet at the same time working to bridge the gap between their program and the ongoing inclusion into a community club setting.

Please take a look at their excellent website and give them your support for this great work.

Thanks to Jose and the team—keep up the great work.

 

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About the author: Peter Downs

About the author: Peter Downs

Founding Director - The Inclusion Club

Peter is Founding Director of The Inclusion Club and Manager of Play by the Rules – a national initiative to promote safe, fair and inclusive sport. Peter has worked for over 25 years in the field of inclusive sport, disability sport and physical activity including 17 years managing the Australian Sports Commission’s Disability Sport Unit.  In 2013 Peter was fortunate enough to receive a Churchill Fellowship to study models of best practice in inclusive sport and physical activity.