Special Olympics foot­ball team stronger

Hamilton News - - SPORT - Tom Row­land ■ For more in­for­ma­tion, go to www.spe­cialolympic­swaikato.org.nz

Since the 1990s a special Olympics foot­ball team has been run­ning across Hamil­ton, most re­cently find­ing a home at Melville United’s home Gower Park. The team is now call­ing on more Hamil­to­ni­ans to get in­volved.

More than 7000 ath­letes through­out New Zealand par­tic­i­pate in the 13 dif­fer­ent Olympic-type sum­mer and winter sports of­fered by Special Olympics New Zealand.

The foot­ball team is coached by Yuriy Gladun, Brett Straw­bridge, Conor Horrigan and Eric Fu. They aim to help those with in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties make friends, gain con­fi­dence and be part of a team.

“As ath­letes de­velop phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally, they learn that they can achieve not only on the sports field, but in the com­mu­nity,” Mr Gladun said.

“We hold our training on Sun­days from 11am to 12pm at Gower Park, Melville,” Gladun says.

“Half of the time is spent on warm-up ses­sions and de­vel­op­ing var­i­ous in­di­vid­ual and team skills, the other half we play foot­ball (soc­cer) as we split the ath­letes into two or more teams.”

Mr Gladun be­gan work­ing with the team in 2016, and since then the team has gone from hav­ing eight ath­letes to 17.

“We are still look­ing for more ath­letes, as for me par­tic­i­pa­tion in a sport team is of great ben­e­fit to any­body, not only peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. I have, how­ever, found that in­for­ma­tion about our ex­is­tence is very lim­ited in the com­mu­nity, and po­ten­tially there maybe ten­fold num­ber of ath­letes in­volved, if the in­for­ma­tion is ac­tively pro­moted.”

“Es­pe­cially, in­di­vid­u­als older than the school age have very lim­ited ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion and a lit­tle en­cour­age­ment from their care­givers to par­tic­i­pate in some sport ac­tiv­i­ties.”

Mr Gladun said that thanks to an in­crease in vol­un­teers, the group has been able to work and de­velop dif­fer­ent skills re­lated to foot­ball as well.

“We are able to split the team into dif­fer­ent groups and prac­tice the skills and the game on dif­fer­ent lev­els.”

Their training in­cludes lead­ing a ball around cones, pass­ing the ball, shoot­ing at the goal and prac­tic­ing some stan­dard game sit­u­a­tions.

He said the ath­letes come away with life lessons, but also an en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence.

“We have man­aged to form a very sta­ble team where the ath­letes at­tend reg­u­larly, un­less some­body is ill or away. As many of our ath­letes rely on their par­ents/care­givers to take them to the training spot, it is not only young in­di­vid­u­als that wants to have some en­ter­tain­ment, but their par­ents who see an ap­par­ent ad­van­tage in ac­tiv­ity of this kind.”

“They en­joy be­ing to­gether, play­ing to­gether, learn­ing to­gether. The team is quite a dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment from school. It gives them dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence and teaches dif­fer­ent skills and be­hav­ioral pat­terns.”

Photo / Sup­plied

Hamil­ton’s special olympics foot­ball team with mem­bers of the Afghan migrant foot­ball team.

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