Helping the Games Begin! Growing VIP Soccer Through ABA
One of the biggest challenges in growing VIP Soccer is convincing parents that their special needs child or adult can benefit through participation. Many parents understandably perceive 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. The good news is that post season research by AYSO Region 154 VIP Soccer in Cypress, Calif., as well as countless anecdotes from AYSO VIP nationally, validates that the overwhelming majority of VIP parents say participation brings significant value to their child’s development.
Since 2011, Region 154 has conducted post season research with VIP parents and care-givers online. The data are impressive:
- 85 to 90-plus percent typically ‘strongly agree’ or ‘agree’ with the statement, “VIP Soccer has helped improve my child’s physical skills, behaviors and socialization”
- Another 90-plus percent rate 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 special needs through soccer’
What’s behind the success? A key strategy has been connecting the program with applied behavioral analysis (ABA) 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 incremental steps that can be built upon to lead to the desired skill and behavior over time and through repetition.
With over 30 years of research, ABA is an evidence-based methodology that is a covered in many states by private health insurance. With Region 154 VIP Soccer, CBI therapists have focused on helping the program’s youngest players — its Mighty Mites, ages 4 through 6. And that makes sense on many levels.
“It’s a win-win-win,” says Denise Eckman, PsyD., BCBA-D, Clinical Director and President of CBI. “We’re able to connect with the youngest players and help them integrate into soccer. That leads to faster and more successful participation and skills development on the field and elsewhere”.
“Parents also appreciate having a trained professional supporting their child in an organized group activity for the first time”, she adds. “We get to share insights that help alleviate some of the concerns and discuss ideas to manage and reinforce behaviors”.
CBI employees are equally enthusiastic about volunteering for VIP. Eighteen employees volunteered on nearly 170 hours on Saturday mornings during the ten week 2013 VIP season. “They love it and many look forward to seeing their favorite players Saturdays. It’s a great experience for them in an outdoor, community setting too”, says Mary Tran, Vice President of Administration at CBI.
There’s a long-term opportunity to positively impact their profession and future recruitment as well. “The majority of high school students have never been exposed to the rewards of working with people who have special needs”, Tran adds. “Our ability to connect with them as high school volunteers hopefully resonates and opens the door to a career in our field and possibly our company”.
Looking to highlight the connection further, CBI sponsors $1,000 in scholarships for four high school seniors who go ‘Above and Bee-Yond’ in their time and effort for the VIP buddy program. Following nomination and validation by coaches and team parents, winners receive $250 for college tuition and a plaque. They are celebrated at VIP program events and publicized in local media.
154 VIP Director Ben Singer, who helped bring the two organizations together, 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 grew after having 150 players and, frankly, we needed it”, Singer adds. “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 special needs children and adults better in our community”.
FINDING AN ABA AGENCY FOR YOUR VIP
How to partner with an ABA agency in your area:
- Find an ABA Partner. Check with your Department of Special Education or Department of Mental Health. Ask which ABA agencies they recommend and get contact information to begin outreach.
- ABA agencies are a Business. Work together to develop a sponsorship that makes business sense for your VIP program and ABA partner. Much will depend on your VIP program’s size and scale to provide access to future clients and parents.
- Think Long-Term. Your relationship should reflect long-term success. As you grow, they, too, should grow. Recognition, meeting prospective clients and earning goodwill are key ingredients.
- Promote the Sponsorship. Every sponsor deserves recognition for helping VIP grow. Write and distribute news releases and photos of your ABA agency in action with VIP players. Local newspapers welcome such news. Place stories and press releases on your website and on the ABA agency’s website. Likewise, social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) are great places for updates and sharing kudos.
- Promote Each Other. Have your ABA agency recommend your VIP Soccer program to clients at registration time. Likewise, your VIP registration flyers, emails and website should display their logo year-round (CBI also sponsors customized bright blue buddy t-shirts for the fall season where their logo and ‘Bee a Volunteer’ slogan are highly visible).
- Measure Sponsorship Value. If you’re not surveying VIP parents after the season, why not start? That will help you and sponsors gauge your program and sponsorships. Are they improving satisfaction in VIP? Do you know if there’s adequate support on the field? How well is your ABA sponsor supporting your VIP program? These can be answered through simple and direct questions that provide REAL data to help you grow VIP.
Denise Eckman, Ph.D. is founder, Clinical Director and President of Creative Behavior Interventions, Inc. or Tustin, California. She has a doctorate in clinical psychology from Pepperdine University and is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst. Ben Singer is communications consultant and parent of a 20 year-old daughter with special needs. He is a 14-year volunteer coach and VIP Administrator in AYSO Region 154, Cypress, Calif.
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