Posted by: sonewjersey | May 15, 2012

Unified Soccer Builds Skills and Confidence

by Mike Milisivana, guest blogger and Unified Soccer partner

They are all athletes. Perhaps I didn’t fully understand the true meaning of the word until I first stepped onto the field for Special Olympics New Jersey (SONJ) Unified Soccer with a group of young soccer enthusiasts. I think of the theme song from “Cheers,” for this was a place where people from all different walks of life were coming together for a sole purpose: Soccer.

Mike getting ready to take the field during Unified Soccer at SONJ’s TD Sports Field.

My first day on the TD Sports Field, I realized that my rudimentary knowledge of Special Olympics and the athletes that participate was going to get a shakedown. I’ve been coaching Soccer for the past 5 years with Lawrence Twp. and yet I didn’t fully realize what to expect.

That first day, I was given the opportunity and honor of teaming up with athletes that have come together to participate in what is known as Unified Soccer. I have to say, I truly felt that this was an apt description of my experience when partnering with these SONJ athletes.

Mike gives pointers to SONJ athlete Kristen, while his son Jack looks on.

My son Jack and I were partnered with several athletes during the first evening, all of whom had different skill levels. It was our goal to have them all play as a unit while learning new skills. While they were attaining new skills, I was learning a lesson or two myself. Let me explain…

There was one athlete in particular that obviously looked like she was having a terrific time. But the one thing I noticed was that she only wanted to play defense. Everyone engaged in drill after drill, but Becky wanted to continue to play a defensive position each time.

I knew what my goal was for the evening. I not only wanted to partner with Becky and help her to excel in the sport, but moreover, I wanted to be able to share my own enthusiasm for the game and the many nuances it entails. There was only one way to do this: encouragement!

Mike practicing some drills during Unified Soccer.

Confidence is a many-faceted gem. I wanted to help her make every facet of her confidence to come through and shine. Encouraging Becky to step outside of her comfort zone and try something different was going to be a feat worth undertaking.

And all this while, it was not only I who encouraged her to try something different, but she encouraged me to open my eyes and realize that during the last few weeks, no matter what is in the background of our lives, we still have a grand thing in common. SOCCER!

Becky is now comfortable in playing a more offensive position in the game. I am now comfortable with the fact that I had no idea that I would connect with some true athletes who put their hearts and heads into the game. I feel as if I am truly the one who walked away with gift in tow. The gift of knowing that, on the field, we are all unified in some way. We have found our common thread.

SONJ athlete Kevin takes control of the ball during game play.

Be it athlete or partner, the lines that delineate who we are now converge because we are all there for the love of the game and to share our victories and defeats, all in the name of FUN!  All in the name of Soccer!

For more information on the Unified Sports program, visit Special Olympics Unified Sports.

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