Focus on ability:
Including Children with Special Needs in AYSO Soccer
Barry Lavay, Ph.D.
California State University
Dept. Of Kinesiology and Physical Education
Table of Contents:
(click on the number or letter)
1. The Author
3. What to Expect from Children with Special Needs
4. Consideration by Specific Disabilities and Special Needs
a. Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders
b. Specific Learning Disability (LD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD)
c. Serious Emotional Disturbance(SED) or Behavior Disorder (BD)
d. Mental Retardation (MR) and Down syndrome (Ds)
e. Cerebral Palsy (CP)
f. Hearing Impaired (Deaf and Hard of Hearing)
g. Visually Impaired (Blind and Partially Sighted)
i. Asthma and Other Respiratory Conditions
j. Seizure Disorders
5. Best Coaching Methods for All Children with Special Needs
6. Pro-active Planning
7. Instructional Methods
8. Modifications in Instructions
9. Coaching Players With Physical Challenges
10. Coaching Players With Cognitive Challenges
11. Coaching Players With Social Challenges
12. Practices to Avoid in Coaching Children with Special Needs
13. Coaching Scenarios: Putting It All Together
Dr. Barry Lavay is a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education at California State University, Long Beach where he coordinates the Adapted Physical Education program. His primary responsibility is to train university students to teach physical education to children with disabilities. Dr. Lavay received his Ph.D. in 1984 with an emphasis in Special Physical Education from the University of New Mexico.
Dr. Lavay has published a number of books, manuals, journal articles and given many presentations
regarding physical activity programming for children with disabilities. Since 1988, he has directed the
CSU, Long Beach Perceptual Motor Development Clinic, an after school program designed to provide positive
movement experiences to children with disabilities and special needs. He also directs two summer programs
for children with special needs.
Prior to teaching at the university level in 1984, Barry taught physical education and coached sports
in the public schools system both as an adapted and physical education specialist. In 1998 Barry was an
assistant coach for his daughter's AYSO Division 6 (U8) soccer team.
Welcome to the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) which is based on the philosophy everyone
plays, open registration, good sportsmanship, balanced teams, and positive coaching. AYSO strongly
believes in including children with special needs. Children with and without special needs can benefit
from the experience of playing AYSO soccer. The child without special needs can be an effective role model
to the child with special needs by demonstrating appropriate social behaviors and skills.
For example, the child with special needs learns to socially interact in an appropriate manner with
the other children on the team and is motivated to perform skills better in the presence of peers. In
addition, the child without special needs learns acceptance, and to respect rather than pity the child
with special needs. From this experience everyone learns that children with special needs are not really
that different from them.
Too often coaches are not prepared to meet the unique challenges, varied behaviors and abilities (i.e.
skill levels) that children with special needs may present during practice and games. This manual is
designed to help coaches successfully include children with various special needs into their AYSO Soccer
program. The manual includes general information on what to expect from children with special needs as
well as some of the more common disability classifications. Information is also provided regarding the
best instructional methods for coaching children with special needs. Included are pro-active methods or
strategies coaches need to consider in order to plan ahead before the first practice, and instructional
ideas to use during actual practice sessions and games.
The aforementioned section includes information on the physical (i.e. skill levels), cognitive (i.e.
understanding directions), and social (i.e. participating with peers) deficits children with special needs
may demonstrate. This is followed by appropriate coaching practices to help offset the problem.
The majority of the positive instructional practices in this manual can be effectively used with all
children, both with and without special needs. Also included are certain negative coaching practices to
avoid. A unique feature of the manual, is the final section, which explains how to put all of the
previously discussed information together. Included are four realistic coaching scenarios with suggestions
for handling each particular situation.
A number of effective practices for coaching children with special needs and successfully including
them into the AYSO soccer program are provided in this manual. However, it is important to remember that
no "cookbook approach" to coaching exists that fits all children. Always keep in mind that each child has
his/her own unique characteristics and needs. The challenge for each coach is to provide a positive soccer
experience to each player. Every player deserves the opportunity to play and the best coaching available.
Children with special needs are no different!
3. WHAT TO EXPECT FROM CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
This section explains what is meant by children with special needs and disabilities, while providing
general considerations regarding their unique behaviors. This is followed by information specific to the
most common type of disabilities or special needs children that coaches will encounter in their AYSO
WHO IS THE CHILD WITH SPECIAL NEEDS?
Remember individuals with disabilities and special needs will demonstrate a wide spectrum of abilities
and needs. Some children will have disabilities that are more obvious such as severe cerebral palsy that
limits mobility or Down syndrome that may cause a child to tire easily and sit down in the middle of the
field during a game. However, other children may have disabilities or special needs that are not as
obvious or easy to detect. For example, a child who you think is not paying attention during practice may
have a mild learning disability that affects his ability to process information. Perhaps you feel a child
on your team is out of shape or lazy because she stops running after the first 10 minutes of practice.
However, this child may have undetected exercise induced asthma.
Regardless of ability, the interests of children with special needs are similar to those of all
children. There is a strong desire to have fun, play, and make friends. For many children with special
needs AYSO soccer may be their first experience in an organized youth sports program. As a coach, always
consider the child's ability not disability. Don't be so quick to make the sweeping generalization that
children with disabilities will function poorly and need extreme modifications. Don't dwell on their
disability, but rather what each child "can do". Determine strengths and begin instruction from there.
Children with special needs and disabilities can present a wide variety of unique physical, cognitive,
and social behaviors or a combination of all three. They can be developmentally delayed and lag behind
their age group peers. In general, children with special needs may require significantly more repetition
in practice with directions and activities (e.g. drills) broken down into smaller steps.
No two children are the same and the same is true for children with special needs. Respect individual
differences in all your players. Later in the manual we will offer suggestions on best coaching methods to
help offset these unique behaviors in order to successfully include each child into AYSO soccer.
In general, children with special needs lag behind their age group peers in certain fundamental
movements skills (e.g. running).
Mobility and range of movements may be limited and vary. For example, one child may have a slight
difficulty with gait that is barely noticeable while another child requires an assistive device such as a
Some may demonstrate an inability to control movements or slow down their pace (e.g. impulse control).
For example, they may display too much force during skills requiring control such as dribbling a soccer
ball with light touches.
Some may not perform skills in a smooth and efficient manner using extra movements and unnecessary
body parts. They may experience difficulty moving one part independently from others. Movements appear
Inconsistency in skill performance that often vacillates from practice to practice and even within the
same session. Coaches may feel the child has learned a skill only to come back the next practice and find
the child has forgotten how to perform the skill.
Children with special needs may tire easily and have little energy. Some have not lead a very physical
or active lifestyle and may have poor muscle tone. They may be overprotected by their parents and not
involved in physical activity.
May be hyperactive and have a lot of excess energy that is difficult to control. This hyperactivity
can cause a short attention span.
Difficulty generalizing skills learned in one setting to another. For example, the child can not
transfer fundamental skills such as dribbling a soccer ball learned in practice into a game situation.
Receptive language or the ability to understand may be better than expressive language.
The child may need more time to take in or process information such as verbal instructions. This may
be due to the fact that the child is taking in too much information or stimuli around them at one time and
has difficulty remaining focused.
May demonstrate inappropriate motor planning or the inability to initiate a movement and put the
correct parts into a proper sequence. For example, the inability to take in information (i.e. coaches
directions) and correctly organize the information in order to properly perform the skill.
Giving the child more than one direction at a time may pose difficulties, as in "run 10 yards down the
field, get in your position as a sweeper and tell the fullbacks to spread out."
The child may be a visual or tactile learner rather than an auditory learner. In this case, coaches
should keep verbal instructions to a minimum and provide a demonstration or physically guidance.
Incidental learning is difficult. For example, the child acquires knowledge only through direct
May take information literally and believe you mean what you say. For example the coach needs to state
to the child who is tired, "Do you need to rest?" rather than "are you beat?"
May exhibit extreme mood shifts ranging from happy to depressed all during one practice or game.
May be resistant to change, requires a structured and consistent setting each time.
May be their first experience participating with other children and taking turns.
Difficulty making friends due to the fact that they don't follow standard behaviors. Their behaviors
deviate from what is considered the "norm" making them seem different and out of place when compared to
Difficulty recognizing the behaviors of others (e.g. facial expression, body language, or tone of
voice) and the message they are sending. For example, the facial expression of teammates when the child is
not passing the ball.
4. CONSIDERATION BY SPECIFIC DISABILITIES AND SPECIAL NEEDS
The following information is specific to children with the most common disability classifications or
special needs that coaches may encounter during AYSO soccer. Included for each disability is a general
definition, followed by its common characteristics. These characteristics can include a wide variety of
unique physical, cognitive, and social behaviors or a combination of all three. Keep in mind that all
children are unique and different, even children within the same specific disability classifications will
demonstrate a wide spectrum of abilities and needs ranging from mild to severe.
a. AUTISM AND PERVASIVE DEVELOPMENTAL DISORDERS
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that occurs during the first three years of life. It is
a neurological disorder that affects the child's language (i.e. verbal and nonverbal communication), play
and social development ( i.e. ability to relate to others). When children display similar behaviors that
significantly affect social interaction and communication but do not meet the criteria of autism they may
be diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder. Children with autism and pervasive developmental
disorders can exhibit one or more of the following physical, cognitive, or social characteristics:
May exhibit uneven rates of development. For example, the child may be strong in one or two
areas, meeting age group peers, while developmentally delayed in others. The two most difficult areas of
development are usually language and social skills.
May display an exceptional ability to perform certain skills such as word recall, music or
perform large mathematical calculations.
Difficulty with body and spatial awareness such as positioning their body while moving.
May exhibit a high threshold for pain.
Communication skills (e.g. using and understanding language) are difficult and can vary from
nonverbal to high verbal skills.
Language may consist of repeating phrases or echolalic meaning repeating back what is heard and
not using original language.
Are literal learners making abstract concepts difficult to understand.
A high percent of children with autism have mental retardation.
May demonstrate inappropriate or unusual behaviors (e.g. lack of eye contact, fixation or
repetitiveness on objects or people).
Resistance to environmental change or a change in daily routines. Transitions from one activity
to the next may be difficult.
Can be over or under responsive to sensory information (e.g. certain sounds). May be sensitive
to touch (i.e. tactile defensive) or resistant to physical closeness.
b. SPECIFIC LEARNING DISABILITY (LD) ATTENTION DEFICIT HYPERACTIVITY DISORDER (ADHD) DEVELOPMENTAL
COORDINATION DISORDER (DCD)
Children with a specific LD have neurological difficulty processing information in the central
nervous system causing a deficit in understanding spoken or written words. This difficulty can manifest
itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, do mathematical calculations
or motor plan. Children with a specific LD will demonstrate a higher than average percentage of the
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or a persistent pattern of inattention and/or
hyperactivity. Impulse behaviors that are more frequent and severe than observed in children of comparable
Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) which means that performance in motor coordination
activities is substantially below that expected of age group peers. There is a marked delay in meeting
motor developmental milestones (e.g. walking) and the child appears clumsy and performs poorly in sports.
Children with specific LD and other accompanying difficulties (ADHD and DCD) can exhibit one or more of
the following physical, cognitive, or social characteristics:
A marked developmental delay exists with children lagging behind their age group peers in
certain fundamental movements (e.g. running, throwing, catching).
May demonstrate inappropriate motor planning or the inability to initiate a movement and put
the correct parts into a proper sequence.
Difficulty with body (understanding what the body parts can do) and spatial awareness
(positioning the body in space).
Difficulty with crossing the halfway line (i.e. hand crossing the body to catch a ball)
May not perform movements in a smooth and efficient manner requiring extra movements and the use
of unnecessary body parts to perform the skill. Difficulty with moving one part independently form others.
In general, child's movements appear clumsy.
May demonstrate an inability to control movements or slow down the pace (e.g. impulse control).
Inconsistency in skill performance that often vacillates from practice to practice and even
within the same session. The coach may feel the child has learned the skill only to come back later in the
same or next practice session to find the child has forgotten how to perform the skill.
May exhibit a loss of balance after performing a movement. This may be the result of applying
too much force or poor motor planning while performing the movement.
Difficulty with bilateral coordination or the upper and lower halves of the body working
together such as performing jumping jacks during warm-ups.
May need more time to take in or process information such as verbal instructions. This may be
due to the fact that the child is taking in too much information or stimuli around them at one time and
has difficulty remaining focused on the specific instruction or task. In general, processing information
especially more than one direction at a time is difficult. May not learn best visually.
Difficulty with visual figure-background constancy or distinguishing an object (e.g. ball) from
a background. For example, the soccer ball and teammates may all blend together.
May demonstrate preservation which is the inability to shift easily from one activity to the next.
For example, continuing to dribble a soccer ball in a drill even when it is time to stop.
May be hyperactive and have a lot of excess energy that is difficulty to control. This
hyperactivity can lead to difficulty staying on task or remaining focused and can result in a short
May finish tasks quickly with many errors in order to move on to the next task.
c. SERIOUS EMOTIONAL DISTURBANCE (SED) or BEHAVIOR DISORDER (BD)
Children with SED or BD demonstrate an inability to maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships
with family, peers, and/or teachers. They exhibit inappropriate behaviors or feelings under normal
circumstances, with a general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression. It is important to realize that
all children display inappropriate behavior on occasion. The key is if inappropriate behavior persists
over time (more than 6 months) and is different from what is expected of children the same age. Children
with SED or BD can exhibit one or more of the following physical, cognitive, or social characteristics:
Usually attain physical development similar to age group peers, but are delayed socially.
A wide range (high-low) of motor ability and fitness levels exist.
May demonstrate an inability to control movements or slow down the pace (e.g. impulse control).
May be sensitive to touch (i.e. tactile defensive) or resistant to physical closeness.
May challenge authority and rules.
Some children lack understanding and regard for safety.
Demonstrates a wide range of specific behavioral disturbances such as aggression, withdrawal,
hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and short attention span.
May appear impulsive by moving without carefully considering the alternatives. A desire to
finish tasks quickly with many errors in order to move on to the next task.
May be hyperactive and difficult to control. This excess energy can make it difficult to stay
on task, remain focused, and can result in a short attention span.
Rigid in expectations and can become easily frustrated, upset, or agitated. Difficulty accepting change, limitations, and criticism (i.e. coaching).
Lack motivation with an inability to direct themselves. For example practicing skills on their
An inability to conform to group goals. Difficulty socializing, relating to others, and making
friends due to the fact that they don't follow standard behaviors.
May exhibit extreme mood shifts ranging from happy to depressed all during one practice or game.
May be resistant to change, requiring a structured and consistent setting each time.
d. MENTAL RETARDATION (MR) and DOWN SYNDROME (Ds)
Children with MR have a limited mental ability and learn at a slower rate. They demonstrate a
subaverage general intellectual functioning level (IQ) that can range from mild (IQ 70-35) to severe (IQ
35 and below). In general, the more severe the mental retardation the greater the physical, cognitive, and
social delays. Delays may include: communication, self-care, home living, social skills, community use,
self-direction, health and safety, functional academics, leisure and work. Down syndrome (Ds) is a result
of a chromosomal abnormality, a form of MR, and this population has a IQ range between 70 and 35. Children
with MR can exhibit one or more of the following physical, cognitive, or social characteristics:
A variety of the following health factors may exist (especially for children with Ds);
inferior circulatory system, heart defects, upper respiratory infections, poor vision and hearing,
obesity, hypermobility of the joints, and poor muscle tone.
Children with MR lag behind their non-disabled peers in fitness and movement skills, this may
go beyond limited cognitive ability to include movement deficiencies.
Reaction time and the ability to make decisions is slower such as changing quickly in a game
from offense to defense.
Displays balance and perceptual difficulties. For example, children with Ds have difficulty with
heights and wish to remain earthbound.
Delays in learning exist. Children with MR are capable of learning, but at a slower rate than
their non-disabled peers.
Limited understanding of information due to a reduced level of attention, memory, perception,
Difficulty understanding and following complex and abstract concepts. These need to be
presented in concrete terms or made tangible.
Transfer of learning is difficult. For example, applying a skill learned in one setting to a
variety of situations and environments.
Receptive language is usually better than expressive language (i.e. limited vocabulary).
Many children with MR can become easily frustrated, upset or agitated and have difficulty
accepting change and/or criticism.
May lack aggression or self-motivation with little interest in physical activity.
Deficiencies in adaptive behaviors make it difficult to accept changes in routines.
Their behaviors deviate from what is considered appropriate making them seem different and out
of place when compared to other children.
e. CEREBRAL PALSY (CP)
CP is caused by damage to the motor section of the brain leaving the child with muscular weakness and
an inability to control voluntary movements. This condition is characterized by paralysis, weakness, poor
coordination, poor posture, and a retention of the primitive reflexes. Children with CP can exhibit one or
more of the following physical, cognitive, or social characteristics:
A limited range of motion with movement deficiencies ranging from mild with 95% range of motion,
a slight limp, and ambulatory to severe with less than 5% range of motion, almost no control of movements
Difficulty performing precise high quality and efficient movements.
Movement efficiency will deteriorate with fatigue, especially as children become more tired.
Fatigue leads to more movement difficulties.
Too much external stimuli or excitement will inhibit and deteriorate movement.
A lack of head control may cause difficulty in vision and the ability to quickly track objects
such as an oncoming ball.
May have difficulty with speech (i.e. slurring) making children with CP difficult to understand.
A high percentage of children with CP may have mental retardation. However, not all children
with CP have inferior cognitive ability.
Due to limited movement abilities the child may become easily frustrated.
f. HEARING IMPAIRMENT (Deaf and Hard of Hearing)
A hearing impairment can range in severity from deaf to hard of hearing. Deaf means a hearing loss so
severe that the child is hindered in processing auditory language information, with or without
amplification (i.e. hearing aid). The child does not receive the stimulus of sound. Hard of hearing means
a hearing loss, whether permanent or fluctuating, which requires special adaptations (i.e. hearing aid).
The degree of the hearing loss can vary. A child with a slight loss will experience difficulty hearing
from a distance or faint speech. A mild hearing loss means the child can understand normal conversational
speech 3-5 ft away. A profound hearing loss means the child relies on vision rather than hearing. Children
with hearing impairments can exhibit one or more of the following physical, cognitive, or social
Some children with hearing impairments may have vestibilar dysfunction which affects their
equilibrium, balance, and ability to move in space.
Prone to ear infections and a ringing in the ear.
Have normal intelligence, but difficulty with verbal communication. May need verbal directions
repeated and other forms of communication given such as demonstrations, physical guidance, visual aids or\
Difficulty with auditory discrimination or the ability to distinguish one sound (i.e. coaching
directions) from another sound (i.e. background noise such as teammates shouting). Will not hear
conversations around them unless it is directed toward them.
Because of deficits in communication skills, children who are deaf and hard of hearing may tend to
socially withdraw and isolate themselves from the group.
g. VISUAL IMPAIRMENT (Blind and Partially Sighted)
A visually impairment (VI) can range in severity from blindness to partial sightedness. A child who is
blind experiences a complete loss of sight.
Partial sightedness can vary greatly depending on the degree of the vision loss as well as the
field of vision. Objects may appear much smaller to legally blind children than to normally sighted
children. For example, to a legally blind child, an object 20 feet away may appear as small as it would to
a normally sighted child viewing the object from 200 feet. Objects may appear even smaller to a child with
travel vision. At just 5-10 feet an object would appear as small as it would to a normally sighted
child viewing the object from 200 feet.
A normal field of vision (i.e. peripheral vision) or the area within which objects can be seen when
the eyes are fixed straight ahead is 180 degrees. Children who are partially sighted may be limited in
their field of vision and their ability to detect an object (i.e. ball or a player) unless it is
coming straight toward them.
Children with visual impairments can exhibit one or more of the following physical, cognitive, or
A lack of vision doesn't affect movement directly, however, delayed development may be due to a
lack of mobility and experiences exploring the child's environment.
Children with VI have sensory movement difficulties such as difficulty with spatial perception
or moving in space, laterality or an internal awareness of both sides of the body, body control, body
image, posture, walking, and running.
There is a reduced opportunity to move and observe others properly moving.
In general, the more severe the visual impairment, the lower the movement and fitness level.
Complex movements may prove difficult.
Children with VI have normal intelligence, but require verbal directions given with reference
points. For example, put your arms above your head with your thumbs together when doing a throw in.
Understanding abstract concepts may be difficult and frustrating.
May be fearful of movements and exploring their environment alone.
The child may exhibit such movements as rocking or moving the head as a result of the child's
need to receive sensory stimulation through movement.
A lack of self-confidence may cause the child to socially withdraw and isolate themselves from
Common symptoms of diabetes are excessive thirst, frequent urination, hunger, and fatigue.
Glucose is needed to elevate the blood sugar level back to normal and can be done by giving the child
a simple carbohydrate snack such as fruit juice, raisins, sugar cubes or hard candy. Have the child or
parents bring a carbohydrate snack to each to practice.
Initially the child may experience a period of adjustment in balancing insulin, food intake, and
physical activity (i.e., intensity of practice sessions). Alert the parents and child ahead of time as to
any changes in the duration or intensity level of physical activity. Encourage activity progression at the
child's own rate.
Children with diabetes are particularly susceptible to dehydration, especially when exercising on
warm days. Children need to increase fluid intake 75 to 30 minutes prior to activity and have plenty of
Find out from the child and parents the warning signs of an insulin reaction. Each child with diabetes
may exhibit different symptoms. The parents need to coordinate practice and games with food intake and the
type and number of units of insulin taken.
Children need to take good care of their skin, especially their feet. There is a tendency for blood
vessels to prematurely thicken or harden resulting in restricted blood flow. Damage can occur without any
signs of pain or inflammation.
Diabetes is a chronic metabolic condition which interferes with the body's ability to properly produce
and/or use insulin. The body fails to burn carbohydrates properly and glucose accumulates-in the
bloodstream. It is the inability of the body to metabolize or utilize foods properly for energy. Children
will exhibit Type I Diabetes which is insulin-dependent diabetes where little or no insulin is produced
and insulin is needed in order to properly use glucose. Be aware of the following factors specific to
i. ASTHMA and Other Respiratory Conditions
Extrinsic asthma (allergy) is caused by an irritability of the bronchi to different types of
substances such as freshly cut grass, cold air, dust, and pollens.
Intrinsic asthma is less prevalent and can be caused by exercise. Exercise-induced Asthma (EIA) refers
to an asthma episode which is induced by high intensity exercise usually occurring after 6-8 minutes into
Asthma is a chronic lung disorder causing a narrowing or a restriction of the bronchial airways in the
lungs, which consequently restricts breathing. This condition causes excessive coughing, wheezing,
breathlessness, and a constriction in the chest. Asthma episodes can vary greatly in severity and duration
among children. Episodes progress through three stages: a hacking nonproductive cough, breathlessness
consisting of a wheezing of air in and out of constricted bronchial tubes with accumulated mucus, and
severe bronchial obstruction which places the individual in an emergency state.
Two types of asthma coaches may encounter are extrinsic and intrinsic (i.e. exercise-induced) asthma.
Children with asthma can exhibit one or more of the following physical characteristics:
Many children with asthma breathe incorrectly, in a rapid & insufficient manner. Breathing must
be taught in a relaxed and unforced manner with deep breathes taken through the diagram.
The child may use an inhaler to take their medication which may cause possible side effects and
affect the child's movement performance and behavior.
A change in the environment can have an adverse effect on the child's asthma. For example,
activities held outdoors under extreme weather changes may prove difficult for the child to adjust to and
Stress may not only cause an attack but can help to extend its course. During an episode
help the child remain calm while finding an area where the child can be alone and avoid embarrassment.
Don't have teammates crowd around the child.
Allow the child to frequently drink fluids during activities. Cold (refrigerated) drinks, should be
avoided because they can cause a spasm to the bronchial tubes.
The child may use a peak flow meter to measure and determine his or her expiratory air flow rate.
Intense aerobic activity should be closely monitored and be progressive in nature. Children
with exercise-induced asthma should be placed on an intermittent schedule of exercise. For example,
1. Begin warm-up by taking medication prescribed by physician. This may vary depending on the child's
condition and type of medication (15-45 minutes) before practice begins.
2. Warm-up with 10 to 15 minutes of light stretching and brisk walking.
3. Workout slowly for 10 to 15 minutes of a low intensity level below 140 beats per minute.
4. Follow the warm-up with a full workout.
5. Always follow the work out with a 10 to 30 minute cool-down.
j. SEIZURE DISORDERS
Determine from the parents the child's history of episodes and if the seizures are under control. Keep
the child in your vision during all activities.
The child will be taking anticonvulsant drugs (i.e. to offset the seizure) which tend to affect muscle
coordination and consequently participation in movement activity.
Intense (aerobic) activity should be monitored very carefully and a program should be designed which
follows a gradual progression.
This is a neurological condition triggered by an overload of electrical impulses to the brain. The
Central Nervous System attempts to protect the child by having a seizure. During a convulsion the body or
parts of the body react to the brain wave irregularly by tensing or contracting involuntarily. Generalized
Tonic-Clonic seizures (once called grand mal seizures) are severe and result in falling down with a
spastic jerking phase lasting from 2 to 5 minutes. There may also be confusion after regaining
consciousness. Absence Seizure (once called petit mal seizures) results in the very short (1-10 seconds)
temporary loss of consciousness without a convulsion and is characterized by a dazed appearance with no
Be aware of the following factors specific to a seizure:
When a seizure occurs the coach needs to take the following steps:
Remain calm and allow the episode to run its course as it can not be stopped. Do not restrain
Assist the collapsing child to the ground, lowering the body gradually to a cushioned spot if
possible. Do not allow the head to bang.
Be sure to clear all obstacles and equipment in the general area in order to prevent injuries
while the body is thrashing.
Loosen any tight fitting clothing, cradle the child's head and turn the body to the side. Keep the
child comfortable throughout the course of the episode.
Do not put anything is the child's mouth as they may break teeth or hurt their mouth.
Observe the child throughout the seizure, and have the rest of the team continue with practice.
Don't have teammates crowd around the child.
After the seizure the child will be exhausted, so allow him/her time to rest. They should not
practice or play after a seizure episode.
Above all, keep your poise during the course of the episode.
5. BEST COACHING METHODS FOR ALL CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
physical (i.e. skill levels),
cognitive (i.e. understanding directions), and
social (i.e. participating with peers) abilities.
This section includes general, positive, instructional methods or modifications that should be used
when coaching children with special needs and disabilities. The majority of the positive instructional
practices can be effectively used with all children, both with and without special needs.
First, the best general coaching practices are provided, including ideas for planning ahead, followed
by instructional practices by general levels of
For example, what are the best coaching practices to use with a child who has a limited fitness level
or difficulty following directions.
As previously mentioned in the introduction section, there is no "cookbook approach" or one method to
coaching that fits all children. Always keep in mind that each child has unique needs and characteristics.
Instruction needs to be child centered and developed around how the child learns best. It is most
important to understand and respect the child's special needs and provide necessary support. Modifications
and adaptations are made when needed to assure that each child, regardless of ability, can safely and
successfully be included in a positive experience.
Pro-active Planning Methods
There are a number of things the coach can plan for and learn about the child with special needs
before practice actual begins. This will help the coach prepare for the unique behaviors that children
with special needs can bring to practice and games.
The Coaches' Attitude
A good place to start is to examine your own attitude toward including children with special needs on
the team. Are you willing to understand and respect the child's special needs and provide the necessary
support? For example, a child with diabetes may need to be excused from group during practice to measure
her blood sugar level or a child with asthma may need to use his inhaler. As a coach, do not internalize
the child's inappropriate behavior, lack of progress or failure. Rather, be patient and have a positive
attitude. The child needs to feel that he or she belongs and that individual differences are valued.
Remember, be positive. Focus on the child's ability not disability. A positive attitude is also important
because the other children on the team will pick up on your positive attitude and be more accepting of the
child with special needs.
Obtaining background information from parents will be valuable to better understand and coach the
child with special needs. This can be accomplished at a parent meeting. The parents know the child best.
Keep in mind that the majority of the parents will be realistic in their expectations of their child.
However, some parents may be overprotective while others may be in denial about their child's disability.
Questions to ask the parents in order to obtain background information about the child's disability or
special need are:
What unique health problems or behaviors exist?
Is your child taking any medication and if so, what type and when?
Describe any unique behaviors about your child.
What are your child's interests (i.e. what motivates them)?
Are there any special accommodations the child will need? For example, a child with asthma may need to
use an inhaler or a child with MR who needs minimum verbal directions and more demonstrations.
Is there any special equipment the child may need? For example, a beep soccer ball for a child who is
Can the child follow directions and routines on his own or does he require assistance?
Don't be afraid to seek assistance and support from the parents. Determine how much and what type of
support the child may need based on the child's ability level (physical, cognitive, social). For example,
if necessary, a family member should be present, ready to assist the child during all practices and games.
Keep in mind, however, that a fine line exists between being too protective and providing the child with
independence. Hopefully as practices continue and the child gains confidence, less support will be needed.
Gain trust by initially providing positive experiences and accenting the positive for each child. For
example, reinforce strengths and what the child can do correctly. Once confidence is gained and the child
with special needs becomes more comfortable, the coach can provide more challenging activities. This child
is similar to all children who need to be challenged and realize that it is okay to fail sometimes.
To determine strengths and needs, informally observe the child while he or she is playing or
practicing soccer. If possible, have a conversation with the child to determine her cognitive level and
how much information she can understand. Keep in mind that receptive language may be better than
expressive language (i.e. limited vocabulary). Ask the child about her special interests.
6. GENERAL INSTRUCTIONAL METHODS
The following are instructional methods coaches can use to include children with special needs. First,
some general instructional practice considerations are provided. Next, the reader is given some
suggestions by physical (i.e. skill levels), cognitive (i.e. understanding directions), and social (i.e.
participating with peers) ability levels.
All children, especially children with special needs, can benefit from a structured practice setting.
This can be accomplished by designing clear, concise, and consistent rules and routines. Keep these
consistent from one practice session to the next. For example, always start each practice with an exercise
warm-up, followed by certain activities or games the children know and feel comfortable with before
introducing new ones. Be sure all the children understand the rule and routines. Over time, and with
practice, the children's understanding will improve.
Consider the organization of your practice session, especially all of the drills. One-to-one
instruction (self-paced), partner work, small groups, and teaching stations can all be used effectively
to teach skills and concepts. Keeping each child active and on task will cut down on behavior problems and
increase motivation, while providing them with more opportunities to practice the necessary skills. This
can be accomplished by shortening lines, providing each child with equipment and using teaching stations.
Teaching stations allow the children to perform activities according to their ability level while freeing
the coach to work with the children who need extra time for instruction.
Small Group Instruction
For many children with special needs, individual and small group instruction is more effective than
large group activities. Initially have them participate in drills with just a few other children or a
child with whom they feel comfortable. Again teaching stations can be used with small groups of children
rotating from one station to the next practicing various skills.
Length of Practice Session
For some children practice sessions longer than 45 minutes to an hour will be more than they can
handle. Provide rest breaks when you find children becoming tired or losing attention. Children with
special needs may need rest breaks or activities changed more frequently.
8. MODIFICATIONS IN INSTRUCTION
Your team, very likely, will be made up of children who vary in skill level from high to low.
Modifications involve using common sense and what works best. Determine if modifications are needed for
the entire team or individual children. Various types of modifications can be considered around the rules,
environment (space), and equipment.
Reduce the number of minutes played in a period.
Use frequent rest periods.
Reduce the pace of the activity (i.e. walk before running).
Rotate positions giving each child an opportunity to learn various skills, however, certain children
may need to play the same position until they feel comfortable.
Reduce the playing area.
Make boundaries more tangible (i.e. large cones, flags).
Make the goal area larger.
Insert buzzers or bells on goals to reinforce the concept of scoring.
Use a partially deflated ball that will move slower.
Use a brightly colored soccer ball or a beep ball for a child with a VI.
Prepare the Children without Disabilities
Do not ignore or avoid a child's disability, but rather allow other children to question and discuss
the topic in an educational manner.
Explain the importance of accepting differences, being patient, and not making fun of teammates.
Encourage the children on the team to support the child with special needs. For example, encourage
them to help the child during drills.
Peer Tutors or a Buddy
Train peer tutors or a buddy to assist or support the child with special needs during instructions,
rules, and activities. This buddy can be another teammate or a sibling of the child with special needs.
Don't be afraid to seek support.
The peer tutor needs to be instructed by the coach as to his or her responsibilities.
A peer tutor will help free the coach during practice.
Peer tutors should never over assist, or treat the child with special needs as the team mascot or pet,
but rather as a member of the team.
9. COACHING PLAYERS WITH PHYSICAL CHALLENGES
Be patient. The child may need more time to complete certain tasks.
Provide plenty of repetition. Children with special needs learn best through repetition and feel
comfortable repeating activities.
Break down skills into simple parts, progressing from one step to the next in a well-planned
Teach from simple to complex. For example, kick a stationary ball before kicking a moving ball.
Difficulty Performing Quality and Controlled Movements
Low Fitness Level
Encourage activity progression at the child's own rate with proper pacing.
If possible reduce the size of the playing area.
Provide frequent rest breaks or allow a child to have a time-out.
Have the child play a position that doesn't require as much running.
Hyperactive and Excess Energy
Have the child perform skills under control and at a slower rate.
Have them take a time-out to think about what they are doing.
10. COACHING PLAYERS WITH COGNITIVE CHALLENGES
During instruction, position the child with special needs in front of or near the coach. Be sure s/he
can see the coach and is positioned away from the sun. This is especially important for children with a
Determine the form of communication that works best for each child such as demonstrations, physical
guidance, visual aids or hand signals.
In general, keep directions simple using demonstration and physical guidance with verbal instruction
minimized. Be careful not to over-assist when providing physical guidance.
Make directions clear, concise and complete. Use verbal reference points. For example state, "put your
arms above your head with your thumbs together when doing a throw in."
Allow the child time to watch others before beginning the activity. Have the coach or another child
model or demonstrate the appropriate movements.
Provide the child with one direction or piece of information at a time. Before the child acts out the
direction have him/her repeat it back to you. This will determine if the child understands the direction.
Eliminate all irrelevant stimuli and have the child focus on only the most important teaching cues or
piece of information (less stimulation). Be sure the child is making eye contact and listening to
In general, most children with a developmental disability (i.e. autism, MR, LD) learn best with
tangible and concrete instruction. For example, "take five steps forward and then turn to the cone." Your
AYSO manual provides further information on how to give instruction using demonstration and physical
Delays in Learning and Following Directions
Short Attention Span
Plan for a number of activities spending a shorter amount of time on each than with other children of
the same age.
Change the task and add novelty in order to maintain interest.
Abstract Concepts are Difficult
Make the direction or activity tangible. For example, outline the playing field with cones or have the
child walk the boundaries of the field, the goal area and center line area with the coach.
Difficulty with Transfer of Learning
Skills, once developed in one setting, must be applied in a variety of situations and environments.
Again, provide a lot of repetition in a variety of settings.
11. COACHING PLAYERS WITH SOCIAL CHALLENGES
The child may require a structured and consistent setting each time. Briefly explain to the child what
is expected of him or her.
Resistance to Change
Transition and Routines
Consistent transitions and routines help children feel comfortable as they know what is expected of
hem each time.
Give them time to move from one activity to the next.
Tell the child a few minutes before you are going to change to the next drill.
Develop a hand signal for getting the child's attention before it is time to transition or receive
Doesn't Follow Standard Behaviors
Discuss with the other children on the team about respecting the differences of each child.
Assign a buddy or teammate to socialize with the child. Give a number of children on the team a chance
to be a buddy.
Discuss the child's inappropriate behaviors with the parents.
Easily Frustrated and Afraid of Failing
Minimize highly competitive activities. Do not initially place the child in these situations until you
have gained his or her trust.
Provide cooperative drills and activities that include everyone rather than eliminate players.
Usually the first child to be eliminated is the child with special needs.
Gain the child's trust by providing a positive environment. Explain to the child that it is okay to
fail sometimes and it's a part of learning.
At first the coach may need to encourage and gently guide the child through activities. Eventually
step aside and have the child perform activities on his or her own.
Assign a teammate to be a buddy or peer tutor to help the child.
12. PRACTICES TO AVOID IN COACHING CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
To assure a safe and a positive experience there are some general practices to avoid while coaching
children with special needs. First, it is important to follow all the safety and injury prevention
techniques listed in your AYSO soccer manual. In addition, determine from the parents the child's medical
needs and what activities may be harmful or should be avoided.
Medical Needs and Potentially Harmful Activities
Some children with special needs (i.e. MR, autism, SED) can not anticipate potentially dangerous,
situations. For example, the parent or coach needs to supervise all situations and teach all children how
to fall properly.
A variety of the following health factors may exist (especially for children with MR and Ds): inferior
circulatory system, heart defects, upper respiratory infections, poor vision and hearing, obesity,
hypermobility of the joints, and poor muscle tone.
If the child is on medication, always verify with parents that the child has taken the proper dosage.
Realize that the time of day can affect the medication's effectiveness.
For children with visual problems, clear all unnecessary equipment while practicing and provide clear,
easy to detect boundaries.
Children with diabetes are particularly susceptible to dehydration, especially when exercising on warm
days. Know the warning signs for children with diabetes.
The time of the year and day can affect a child with asthma. Be aware of the setting. For example,
don't play on freshly cut grass and be aware of a weather changes as it gets colder in the late fall.
Know the steps to take if a child has a seizure (see seizure disorders).
Atlantoaxial instability is a condition which exists among a small number of children with Down
syndrome. This condition involves greater than normal mobility in the upper two vertebrae of the neck.
Therefore it is important to have a physician examine children with Ds to detect this possible condition.
Coaches need to avoid warm-up exercise or heading the ball that would place pressure on the neck.
Avoid embarrassing children by playing elimination activities or drills, having children picked last,
or allowing them to make fun of one another.
13. COACHING SCENARIOS: PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
This section will help coaches put together the many factors discussed throughout this manual.
Included are four realistic coaching scenarios which typically arise when coaching AYSO soccer to children
with special needs. There are also brief suggestions for handling each situation.
Coaching Scenario 1: The child is very easily distracted and has difficulty following directions.
Establish a team rule that when directions are given eyes are on the coach.
Use clear signals such as a whistle or hand clap during instructions to get the team's and the child's
attention. This signal can be used to start/stops practice, transition from one drill to the next, and to
Structure the setting. For example, during instructions provide a cone, near the coach, where the
child is to stand.
Stand by the child and give one direction at a time. Have the child repeat the direction back to you
after it is given and before attempting the action.
Assign a teammate as a buddy to help the child with directions. For example, have the child watch the
buddy perform the action before attempting it themselves.
Catch the child behaving appropriately. Reinforce the child verbally any time he listens and follows
directions. For example, the coach can state, "Wow, thanks for listening and following the directions."
Determine reinforcers the child desires. For example, have the child earn such privileges as being the
exercise leader, distributing equipment, or demonstrating a skill. For younger children stickers, stamps,
decals, or certificates may be used as reinforcers.
Set goals for listening to directions by having the parents provide daily or weekly reinforcers the
Coaching Scenario 2: The child is unable to stay in assigned area and runs away from the group.
Establish a team rule for staying in assigned areas. Provide a cone, near the coach, where the child is to stand during instructions.
Have the child watch from the sidelines until he or she feels comfortable participating.
The coach should initially ignore the inappropriate behavior and not chase the child.
Assign a sibling, parent or buddy (teammate) to be with the child.
If the behavior is persistent assign a family member to keep the child on task.
Catch the child acting appropriately. Reinforce the child for staying with the group.
Determine reinforcers the child desires (see examples of reinforcers provided above). Set goals for
staying with the group by having the parents provide daily or weekly reinforcers.
Coaching Scenario 3: The child is hypersensitive, feelings are easily hurt, is extremely particular, and has difficulty interacting with the group.
Establish a team rule that teammates get along and support one another.
Have a direct discussion with the child and the parents to determine the possible cause. Possibly the
child is afraid of missing the ball and looking foolish.
Find out what motivates the child. For example, a certain position, drill, or teammate.
Gain the child's trust by providing a positive environment. Explain to the child that it is okay to
fail sometimes and it's a part of learning.
At first the coach may need to encourage and gently guide the child through activities.
Assign a teammate as a buddy with whom the child feels comfortable interacting in order to help the
child feel he or she belongs.
Determine reinforcers the child desires (see examples of reinforcers provided above). Set goals for
interacting with the group by having the parents provide daily or weekly reinforcers the child likes.
Coaching Scenario 4: The child is disruptive to the point that the behavior is affecting the other children's learning experience.
Discuss the situation with the child and the parents. Find out the possible cause of the disruptivebehavior. Perhaps the child is frustrated because of his/her low skill level.
Determine if the behavior can be prevented or is due to the child's disability.
Explain that disruptive behavior will not be tolerated. For example, when the child is disruptive provide a warning: the next disruption will be a brief time-out (no longer than 5 minutes), followed by dismissal from practice if the disruption continues.
Discuss the problem with the parents. Assign a parent or sibling to work with the child.
Catch the child acting appropriately. Reinforce that behavior.
Determine reinforcers the child likes (see examples of reinforcers provided above). Set goals for minimizing disruptions by having the parents provide daily or weekly reinforcers the child likes.
The following is a list of references coaches can use to learn more about providing physical activity
to children with special needs.
- Adams, R.C., & McCubbin, J.A. (1991). Games, sport, and exercises for the physically handicapped(4th ed.). Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger.
- Block, M. (1994). Including students with disabilities into regular physical education. Baltimore, MD: H. Brooks Publishing.
- Davis, K. (1990). Adapted physical education for students with autism. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.
- Dunn, J. M. (1997). Special physical education: Adapted, individualized, developmental. (7th ed.) Madison, WI: Brown and Benchmark.
- Eichstaedt, C.B. & Lavay, B. (1992). Physical activity for persons with mental retardation: Infant to adult. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Hellison, D. (1995). Teaching responsibility through physical activity. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Jansma, P. & French, R. (1994). Special physical education. (2nd. ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
- Lavay, B., French, R., Henderson, H. (1997). Positive behavior management strategies for physical educators. Champaign IL: Human Kinetics.
- Paciorek, M. & Jones, J. (1994). Sport and recreation for the disabled: A resource manual. Carmel, IN: Cooper Publishing.
- Sherrill, C. (1998). Adapted physical activity, recreation and sport: Crossdisciplinary and lifespan. (5th ed.). Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown.
- Winnick, J.P. (1995). Adapted physical education and sport. (2nd ed.). Champaign Ill., Human Kinetics.