Eastside Timbers’ TOPSoccer, a program that has been running strong for 13 years had to shift gears like all of us during this pandemic. They brought innovation into the program to support their athletes. It started in March 2020 when their Spring Season clearly couldn’t happen and continued it into the Fall of 2020. They hosted a live virtual program in lieu of in-person sessions in the Fall and Winter. Based on athlete, volunteer, and family feedback through surveys and virtual question and answer sessions, TOPs constructed a format that promoted player access, socialization between players and volunteer buddies, and the opportunity to engage in the wonderful sport of soccer. Coach J brought this idea forward based on her experience teaching 18- 21-year-olds with multiple and complex needs in the online setting. She saw the possibilities with this platform for a high-needs population of learners and how important it was for her students to have access to some semblance of normalcy at home.
The Fall season included multiple opportunities for virtual engagement. With nine weeks of sessions, once per week on Mondays, the evenings started out with TOPS Talks- a training opportunity for volunteers and families begun by the former Director and Founder, Sue Hughes. Sponsored by Pediatric Therapy Services of Gresham and Clackamas, TOPS Talks in the virtual setting were hosted on eight out of the nine evenings and offered training in the areas of speech language pathology, physical therapy, applied behavioral analysis, and more for volunteers and families. After TOPSTalks, two ability-based sessions were offered. Both sessions went through a similar format of whole group greetings and agenda review, small group buddy/player interactions, whole group adaptive P.E. style games and soccer drills, and ALWAYS ended with a dance party! Participants could see players and buddies high-fiving their computer camera at the end of each center! The season ended with a virtual guest appearance from the Timbers’ mascot, Timber Joey!
Winter Camp had a similar format with two ability-based sessions for three days. Players and buddies continued to work together. In the Fall and Winter sessions, buddies were given opportunities to provide feedback on what worked and what didn’t for players and for the session dynamic as a whole. Voices were heard and promoted to help make these virtual opportunities possible! Other voices were highlighted during the Winter Camp when OYSA TOPSoccer State Chair Nelson Larson attended and USYS Disability Soccer Committee Chair Ashley Hammond joined! We also had a guest appearance from Paralympic National Team Player Shea Hammond!
Our virtual program garnered attention from national figures heads like Ashley, and David Robinson, National Chair of TOPSoccer. Eastside Timbers’ TOPSoccer hosted a ‘Bonus Sunday’ session to showcase our program with Western Region Chair Sandy Castillo in attendance along with the aforementioned gentlemen. This has been the first time that our athletes could feel a greater outpouring of support from the soccer community than they had previously!
Our success produced meaningful opportunities for players and volunteer buddies. Families were connected with community resources and other families to share experiences. Overall, the virtual format is different, but not less. It has provided a safe space to play, develop individual skills, promote socialization in a new way, and offer a fun time!