15th March, 2021 — accessibility

Children with autism are winners at Geelong Rangers FC

Geelong Rangers FC Soccer Club believes that everyone should have the opportunity to take part in sport. It is one of the inaugural clubs in the All Abilities League in Geelong.

The all-abilities initiative sees players with mental and physical disabilities become part of a soccer club and play in their own league.

Beginning in 2019, Geelong Rangers introduced a new soccer program to the club. It’s in conjunction with Sporting Network for Autistic Players and Parents (SNAPP) and Football Victoria (FV). The program enables children with autism to have a safe environment to take part in soccer. It runs during term time on Saturday mornings.

“It’s quite important personally to me, as I have a son on the autism spectrum,” says Lisa Brooks, club secretary.

A learning opportunity for everyone

The program runs during term time for 10 weeks. It’s a Saturday morning activity, with the idea of it being a social environment for parents as well as children. Participants at all levels of soccer ability and between the ages of 6 to 14 are welcome. The club sees a turnout of 20 to 25 children per week.

“Some kids take a few weeks to get into it. But by the end of the program they were all playing and having fun,” says Lisa.

The end goal of the program is to integrate the children participating in the program into the club. Geelong Rangers FC will include these children on its teams. It will also educate coaches on what children with autism need to feel comfortable.

“Autistic children can be socially isolated and labelled as naughty,” explains Lisa.

“I think it opens up opportunities for players, committee members and junior coaches to learn about the autism spectrum. It shows how important it is to integrate all families and include them at the club.”

“It’s been great for us to see people understanding the social issues, as a club and as a wider society. Good Sports helps us to keep connected and include everyone. That’s what Good Sports is about,” says Lisa.

Geelong Rangers FC program helps autistic children connect

The Geelong Rangers FC committee was interested in introducing the program because as a club, they recognise that it’s important to adapt programs for others.

“Some of these children have issues with social connection. We’ve always had children with autism in the mainstream teams and tried to make coaches aware of this. But now we have this dedicated program, because we are a family-friendly and inclusive club,” Lisa explains.

Despite having the all abilities team, the club wanted to create a program that could be adapted specifically for children on the autism spectrum. It is adapted to suit them and understand their specific needs.

“We were approached by SNAPP who had run similar projects for other sports such as tennis and rugby. Working with them, we found they were great at adapting the program for our club,” says Lisa.

Now with this new program in place, Geelong Rangers FC will be kicking goals long into the future.

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