Ontario Soccer’s first Accessible Festival

Last weekends Accessible Soccer Festival was the first held by Ontario Soccer and the first held by any provincial association in Canada. A number of grassroots Clubs, notably Kitchener SC, Pickering SC and Fergus-Elora District Soccer (FEDS) have held small festivals in the past but only FEDS appear to have a formula for success with a strong focus on adults with intellectual disabilities. An event like this will help many other Clubs think differently about how they connect and compete on the field with other like-minded Clubs, competition is great but in order to get to a point where meaningful competition is ‘the norm’, we need to grow the critical mass of players so similar groups can compete together. The format offered last week in Vaughan is a solution for the Club that has one player with a visual impairment just as it is for the Club with fifteen Special Olympics athletes. Read on to understand what was done and how it will help encourage other Clubs to get involved.

Group shot at OS

Over the past 2 years these Clubs have been in discussion with Ontario Soccer to try and establish a regular coming together where players can compete with players from other Clubs. This culminated in a group meeting last September where Clubs came together to discuss what might work for 2017, at least as a starting point. The overwhelming message from these Clubs was that Ontario Soccer needed to host something. The ‘something’ hadn’t been defined at this point but the fact that the provincial body was pulling Clubs together would be a strong message to endorse what Clubs were already doing and from my perspective, it would be the next key milestone in the growth of inclusive, accessible soccer.
We will focus on the positives of the day but the only improvement needed for next year will be to confirm the data as soon as possible and let Clubs know at the start of their outdoor season. The event fell on a weekend when many accessible club programs have typically finished for the summer and it’s essential for parents to know months in advance in order to schedule their time accordingly.

OS flyer

Format
The proverb ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ was certainly true in this case. The conversation for too long had focused on how we get such a wide range of players (age, gender, ability, size and strength etc.) all on the same field, and at the same time support the many Clubs who follow the philosophy of meaningful competition. We wanted to ensure every player had a chance to participate and experience the game of soccer. Even in a small-sided format thought needs to be given to the potential for Clubs to bring a mix of athletes with intellectual disabilities, wheelchair users, visually impaired and others. The conversations had turned into something akin to a ‘paralysis* by analysis’ where there was no level playing field where we, as Coaches, could be sure all players would participate to their fullest. The game may be too quick for some, too slow for others, the field may be too large or too small and the list goes on. When we consider this in the context of the Inclusion Spectrum the Clubs knew that an Open game would see some players dominate while other had no involvement. If we tried a Modified version of the game the attempt to adapt for the needs of so many different players would mean that if every feasible modification was made, then inevitably someone would miss out, or the game would have very little in relation to soccer. The OS Accessible Soccer Fun Day was, as it’s title suggests, a day for accessible soccer and stood ‘Separate/Alternate‘ from other Ontario Soccer events. This is simply because most OS events are provincial championships and high-performance environments – this was very much a grassroots activation. The format that was preferred for this event became a Parallel format.

CAC diagram

Taken from CAC NCCP Coaching Athletes with a Disability e.learning module

The Parallel format used a simple version of the Canada Soccer Preferred Training Model (PTM) which can be found HERE, and which is described as:
‘A “station” approach to training. Players move from one skill-building activity to the next at regular intervals. The time spent on each activity varies based on the age of the player. This method is not only more fun for young players—who tend to have short attention spans—but also allows training sessions to be tailored to a team’s individual needs, depending on the number of players, the number of parents and coaches present, and the available facilities’.

The Canada Soccer PTM explains that a field or playing area can be divided into 4 (or more) stations with each station developing players; (1) General Movement skills, (2) Coordination, (3) Soccer Technique and (4) Small-Sided Game experience. Players are grouped randomly and start at a range of stations, every 5-10 minutes they are signalled to rotate and move onto the next station. Coaches, importantly, stay at any given station and don’t move with the players enabling players to experience different coaching styles and allows the coach to have a real grasp of the topic being delivered at their station.

By using this training model, it offered some major benefits to be considered for future accessible soccer events.

Layout at OS
1. It meant that Clubs could bring as many players as they wanted across a range of abilities and ages without the fear of some players being inactive while others dominated. At this event, we had players in their 50’s with an intellectual disability on the same field as a 10-year-old with cerebral palsy.
2. It meant that players from a range of Clubs could participate on the same field, at the same time, with plenty of touches on the ball and interaction with their teammates.
3. With each station being manned by a guest coach it enabled the Club Coach to move with his/her players around the field and provide support and guidance without having to lead the session. For some coaches leading a station, it may also be their first opportunity to experience coaching within a para/Special Olympics environment.
4. Match Officials were not required. In due course, it is hoped that demand will increase for this group to have knowledge of different formats of the game. 5. Finally, and of most interest to me was the use of sponsor activation to add further value to players, parents and the hosts. At this event, the use of a mini inflatable soccer field (Soccer Express), an enormous Velcro dart board (Oasis) and a penalty shoot out station (Toronto FC) meant that players got some very interesting stations to try out on their way around each station. This of course added value to the sponsors who got their name in front of 150+ attendees and at the same time provided variety to a group of athletes who are beginning their love affair with soccer.

The day was a great success and was, from my position, a further step in the progress towards wider inclusion and the opportunity for other Clubs to share in a model of best practice. The event format brought together the basics of the Inclusion Spectrum, the current Canada Soccer model for training and sponsor activation, all on a mini field with 6 Clubs represented.
A win-win all around and thanks, must go to Paul Burns, OS Club Development Coordinator for pulling the day together and to Johnny Misley for supporting this staff endeavour at the end of what has been a busy summer for the OS and its staff.

blind at OS

*Dictionary.cambridge.org definition: a situation in which you are unable to take action.

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