Special Olympics football team stronger
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.”
Hamilton’s special olympics football team with members of the Afghan migrant football team.