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Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

Spring 2009

Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

Suggestions for Successful Integration in Soccer

By Stefanie Knaus
Lovaas Institute – Sacramento
With contributions from Anne Faraher, Mary Kutch, Miriam Luttbeg, and Scott Revlin

As we search for ways to successfully integrate our students into the community and social atmosphere, one of the most popular areas for inclusion is the athletic arena. Soccer, which has become increasingly popular, is one sport that many families consider when introducing their child to team sports. Some cities offer soccer and other sports programs that are specifically designed for students with special needs. But, for the most part, a child's successful participation on a sports team requires a great amount of specialized teaching by the parents, behavioral instructors, and team coaches. Below are some strategies and resources that have been suggested by our behavioral consultants when considering how to maximize a child's success and participation on a soccer team.

  • Think creatively about ways to demonstrate the concepts of the sport. Figurine play has been helpful for some children. For example, create a "soccer field" from a piece of cardboard and other craft materials. Use figurines to demonstrate movement in response to the soccer ball. Although the figurines and cardboard "field" are quite different from the real thing, you will be able to demonstrate and practice concepts in an environment that is less distracting and in a mode that may be more familiar to a child.
  • Defense may be easier for a child to learn than offense initially. The concept behind defense is pretty straightforward (keep the ball out of the goal) and the direction to move the ball remains the same throughout the game (away from the goal). For a defensive position, you can teach a child that he has to stop the ball from getting past him. In the earliest years, passing is not a necessary component and playing defense can even help eliminate the need to discriminate between teammates and opponents. Accuracy is not so important when playing defense either; just getting the ball out of the goal area can be the focus.
  • You might suggest to the coach that he look for parts of the game where the rules and expectations stay consistent and there are no quick decisions to be made. If a child is expected to pass to other players, also suggest the shirts/uniforms that the kids wear are easily discriminated from the opponents' uniforms.
  • For older children, if possible, the coach should choose one position (e.g., a defensive position) for the child to play at every practice. It is not necessary to expose him to the other positions right away.
  • Soccer social stories may be helpful to review with your child. The following social story may be modified or a new one can be created in any format that is understandable. Social stories can be reviewed before each practice and each game.
  • When the players practice skills one at a time, place the child at the middle or toward the end of the group so he has many examples to watch before his turn. Also consider that if your child becomes distracted easily, he may be more successful taking his turn after watching just a few players, while his attention is still focused. Practicing skills as a group may also be beneficial, as the child has multiple examples to imitate.
  • The following web link contains a report titled, "Focus on Ability: Including Children with Special Needs in AYSO Soccer" and includes sections on "best coaching methods" and "practices to avoid in coaching."
  • Another website outlining three strategies that have been helpful in teaching some children with autism to play soccer is

Do you have other ideas of skills to incorporate in the athletic arena? Share them with us here

The names of all children in this newsletter have been changed in respect for family confidentiality.

Whistle Praise! Try to praise with a whistle in your mouth, which forces you to simulate talking with a whistle (or blow-out noisemaker, sound vibrator, guitar amplifier or microphone).

Tell Me What to Do! Model an instruction to do something silly, and then comply with the child's instruction when they say it. For example, give the instruction, "say, 'walk like a duck.'" When the child says so, start crouching on the floor and waddle around while quacking like a duck. Try other silly actions, like falling down or imitating "Barney."

Emotional Clown! Act out silly, exaggerated emotions like sad — with a real sappy "boo hoo hoo" and drip water on your face for tears (all very fake) or happy - with a silly happy song and dance.

Lost in the Hood! Wear a hooded sweatshirt with a drawstring and make your head disappear as you tighten the string. Ask the child to help to get you out.

I'm Pouring! Hold a spring water bottle above the child's head - tilt ever so slightly in an anticipatory way - drop droplet. Fair play, however, is allowing them to get you. But they are usually less reserved about the amount they drop!

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