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Transformer Soccer

In my town, the Recreation council has the fall soccer registration in June. (I have no idea why they have it so early,) So, I asked #3 if he wanted to play and he danced around the house excitedly and said "yes".

The year before, I had signed #1 & #2 up to play on the same team and arranged for a therapeutic aid to help them on the field. However, the coach was not an "Autism sympathizer" and sent the aide away. "We can handle it" he said. And then he didn't handle it. He ignored the kids and just "Dealt" with having them subtract from the team's capacity to win.  If he hadn't gone off to India right after making that decision, he would've received such a verbal scathing that he would've had to be scraped off the field, but he left for two weeks and left the assistant coaches in charge to follow through with his decision.  I then had to be on the field with the boys and spent the majority of the season restraining myself from taking down the coach after he returned.  I was grateful the two assistant coaches were willing to learn the strategies needed to help the boys; like making sure #1 stayed on the field.

I was determined not to repeat that experience, so I volunteered to coach. I played soccer as a kid, refereed in college and had lots of experience managing my own small team of five. Plus, back in the day, I used to run the kid's fitness parties at an aerobic studio, so I could handle large groups of kids. An added bonus: I got to order around a bunch of kids that weren't mine for a change.

As our first practice got closer, I started prepping him for the transition and that's when he informed me, "I hate soccer. I don't wanna play soccer." Great. Just freaking great. If I hadn't signed up to be coach, I would've pulled him from soccer. Now I had to figure out how to get this kid to play. Great. Just f-ing great.

#3 is the PDD/NOS kid who also has ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder). He is the most stubborn of the kids and when he chooses to rebel, he's not easy.  I  had to figure out a strategy for the soccer season. How was I going to get this kid, who swore he loved soccer two months ago, on the field now that he hates it?

I took a survey of motivators; things he liked that he'd work for. (In the autism world, we call these items motivators, incentives and rewards.) I really didn't want to sugar him up, I didn't want to go broke with toys and I didn't want to have a bunch of crap in my house. I took him to Target and asked him what he wanted to earn. He picked out mini-transformers, about $3.50 per robot.

Soccer was eight weeks. Practice and games were each once a week. I needed 16 Transformers. I'd rather buy beer. No chance you'd be happy with Bailey's in your milk? Once he agreed to the reward, then I put the demands in place."You have to play more than you sit, it must be no less than a 60/40 split. You need to be a good listener and do what your team-mates are doing.  If you want to sit, you have to sit with the moms. You can't wander around the field and if I have to chase you down, you lose the reward." He agreed and we shook hands.

With fingers crossed and chilled beer in the fridge, the day of our first practice arrived. I let him pick out the first robot and hold it while I put on his uniform and cleats. If he earned it, he could only open it after practice, but it would have to stay in the car until then.  He looked happy to hold the robot, but was anxious about meeting a bunch of kids he didn't know.

We had 10 kids on the team. I didn't have an official assistant coach, but I encouraged all the dads to be on the field and they were great. I let them be "in charge" of my kid. (Usually, kid's always do better listening to someone else.) The under six league had kids ages four to six and played six players on the field at one time without a goalie. I'm not a fan of a wild pack of kids running around the field, so I taught them zones. I utilized my informal ABA training and showed them a picture of the field and showed them their positions on the board. When they got on the field, it was much easier for them to function.

Over the course of the season, I taught them drills, zones, teamwork, ball control, our team-mate's names, team spirit, and that they had the capacity to be awesome.  Every practice and game each player was greeted with a hug, a spin and some encouraging words. They were my boys. My sweet boys; some who were sports inclined and some who were not.  I gave them all lots of positive feedback and laughed a lot. They were all so stinking cute. We had one kid who had just turned four.  I spent most of the season trying to get him to run the right way. I had one kid who melted every practice and game and chose to sit out all but the last two games. I had two brothers, who I swear will be the next Payton & Eli; they are that talented. I had a little boy, yet to be diagnosed on my team. I gave him some extra love and talked his mom through the process of getting an ASD diagnosis.  When my one anxiety ridden kid, who only played because I was coach, scored his very first goal during the last game of the season, I cried. My little guys went from a bunch of crazies to a team that only lost two games. They made coach proud. 

There were days he didn't earn his robots. I told him, "you didn't play more than you sat and you were not a good listener." He only lost robots twice and then one day he just got better. Once he started to like the kids on the team, he looked forward to seeing them. The bonus, was that four kids from his team were at his school and one was even in his class. He had the bond with his team and together we had a bond, because I was coach.  

When the season ended, #3 asked me, "Mom, can I play soccer again next year?"  I looked at him and said, "Yes.  But are you sure?" He nodded his head and said "yes, Coach." And that, was all I needed. Let's hope I can teach him the appeal of making sand art out of empty beer bottles by then. That would be a win-win.


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