GOALS (Giving Opportunities to All who Love Soccer)
A nonprofit unified soccer program, GOALS breaks down the barriers that separate kids with special needs from their neurotypical peers.
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201 W Linger Ln
Phoenix, AZ 85021
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Date You Started Your Project Started
Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.
Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)
1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?
Nearly half of the American population has yet to meet someone with an intellectual disability. The current education system prioritizes the separation of students with learning disabilities. But this social exclusion extends beyond the classroom and into our communities.
I have found soccer to be the ultimate equalizer. On the soccer field, disability disappears, and authentic friendships are formed that transcend intellectual barriers.
2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.
Soccer is a sport that is conducive to being inclusive. Every player is always involved in the game—there are no time-outs, turns to bat, or substitutions. Soccer allows us to focus on creating meaningful human connection.
GOALS partners youth athletes who have intellectual disabilities with neurotypical peer buddies, in small-sided, non-competitive scrimmages. What makes GOALS special is that it is not a community service program for kids with intellectual disabilities. GOALS is a program that serves the entire community, understanding that our community includes people of all abilities. GOALS champions people for what they bring to the community, rather than defining them by what they take. GOALS breaks down the barriers that separate kids with special needs from their neurotypical peers, creating intentional connections that allow true friendships to develop. For many kids, GOALS is the first time they experience genuine acceptance.
3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?
I have been playing soccer since I was eight. My parents signed me up, hoping that being part of a team would help me make friends. One of my teammates had a brother with Down Syndrome. He came to each of my practices and games, kicking a ball by himself on the sidelines. But over the course of several seasons of conversations during water breaks, I stopped seeing him as just a kid with Down Syndrome and started seeing him as my friend. I learned that my teammate's brother didn’t play soccer by himself because he liked playing alone, but because kids like him had no team to play on.
I understood the pain of being excluded because of an inability to communicate. I realized that I had all the skills necessary to share my love for soccer with kids who might not otherwise have the chance to play, just because they needed some additional accommodations.
5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.
When athletes register for their first GOALS event through our website, we send a survey to parents asking about the athlete’s interests. Because of the intimate nature of our games, we create intentional connections by partnering athletes and buddies based on similar passions.
Neurotypical peer buddies participate in a mandatory training program before their first program, as most of our volunteers have yet to meet someone with an intellectual disability. Our curriculum teaches buddies how to best support the athletes they are matched with, both on and off the soccer field.
The partnerships formed between athletes and buddies continue through each scrimmage. In this, GOALS is a forum for kids of all abilities to both learn the fundamentals of soccer and create lasting friendships.
6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?
The first program we hosted had nine participants. The event’s small size — which I had deemed a failure — not only created a deeper sense of empathy through shared experience but allowed our participants to overcome the hurdles of social stigma surrounding disability.
Through GOALS, we’ve created a community that embraces the diverse talents and abilities of its people and views others by the value they contribute, rather than how much they need. The GOALS experience carries forward off the field, influencing how all of the participants view each other at school and in their communities.
7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?
Since its inception in February of 2015, GOALS has impacted over seven hundred participants across Arizona. We have also reached nearly a thousand students through school programs, such as our annual Disabilities Awareness Day. Partnerships with Special Olympics, generationOn, and Youth Service America encourage more kids, both with and without intellectual disabilities, to participate in unified sports.
But the best measure of success comes in the form of an athlete like Micah, who came reluctantly to his first GOALS event. Micah had never tried sports before, preferring instead to play video games by himself. He was surprised to find that he loves soccer, and he looks forward to playing with his friends at every GOALS event, where his diagnosis of autism doesn’t define him.
8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?
We currently host fields for players aged eight to fourteen, and are in the process of expanding the program through our toolkit, complete with information on reserving fields, contacting local organizations to reach athletes and buddies, and opportunities for funding. Next year, we plan to open a third field for young adults with special needs, as well as launch GOALS clubs in public high schools across Arizona. Eventually, I can see GOALS becoming an integral part of every community, because through sports, anyone can communicate that each of us is valued, each of us is a part of the team, and each of us is a friend worth having.
9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?
10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?
Donations less than $100
Donations between $100-$1k
Donations between $1k-$5k
Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?
Religious minority (non-Christian)
How did you hear about this challenge?
Participated in previous Ashoka challenges