Since 1991, the Very Important Player (VIP) program has provided a quality soccer experience for individuals whose physical or mental disabilities make it difficult for them to participate on mainstream soccer teams. AYSO stayed true to the principle of Everyone Plays®, uniting players of all backgrounds with the guarantee that they will all play the beautiful game of soccer. The VIP program’s inception has given a home to thousands of unsung very important players, creating invaluable memories and stories to share. Loving mothers Michelle Leer and Ana Bernier both share their personal accounts of how the VIP program has affected their lives and the lives of their star children.
VIP Soccer: Michelle and Bobby Leer
Everything you need to know about AYSO VIP soccer is right here. This is Bobby, my 13 year old son. He’s played VIP soccer for 7 years now (Region 154 in Cypress, Ca) and each year he’s enjoyed it more and more. Bobby has autism and as his mom, it makes me so happy to see him engage with the sport and his teammates. The pure joy on his face in this photo is so genuine! So…I thought I’d share with you in hopes that you can highlight the amazing work of the VIP League and all the opportunities it provides our players on your social media outlets.
Our AYSO journey started 7 years ago with the VIP Region 154 in Cypress, CA. I have been “team mom” for several years too! We became involved because we heard about the VIP league through school friends who were also participating.
The connection we “Special Ed” parents have with each other is very close and lots of resources are shared among all of us.
AYSO has taught Bobby SO many things. To be honest, it was challenging for the first couple of years that he played. His attention span was limited and he had some behaviors that prevented him from really becoming an active team player. But just when I thought maybe we’d have to hang up the soccer cleats for good, something clicked. He began to connect and engage with his teammates. He started to really kick the ball and dribble down the field. He no longer needed Dad out there on the field holding his hand and running alongside him. He became more and more independent and started listening to his coaches. And he really began to enjoy the attention from his sideline fans. It’s been so much fun to watch his progress. AYSO has impacted Bobby’s life because I feel like he has learned to not give up; that new experiences, while hard at first, can give such a great feeling of accomplishment if you just put in the work. I know that Bobby is proud of himself; I can see it in the way he suits-up for his game at home before we leave for the fields; he’s very proud of his uniform.
The VIP program means a lot to our family because it provides a forum where our kids can participate just like any other kid — but in an environment that is welcoming and encouraging. We can all just be ourselves on the VIP soccer fields and that means so much. There is no judgment — you can just exhale and not worry about anything except having fun. It’s also an opportunity to learn some skills in a natural way that are often hard to target in other settings…like making friends and being social, listening to instructions and strengthening gross motor skills.
VIP Soccer: Ana and Sabrina Bernier
Sabrina is my 14 year old, severely autistic and non-verbal daughter who also has sensory issues. She has always been around soccer with my family not only being AYSO referees, but also part of the Regional Board. When she was 5 years old, we enrolled her older brother in AYSO and their dad was the coach, so we tried to include her as much as possible. Even buying her a team jersey and to come together for team cheers at end of the games.
Throughout our involvement, Sabrina has been around other players and watched from the sidelines for over 8 years now while kids played soccer and enjoyed their day. She always seemed interested to play, by attempting to kick a ball or running onto the fields, but being special needs, and too big for smaller divisions, she could not join a regular group. Until our region created the VIP program this year.
Sabrina requires a lot of prep work to get her into new activities and new surroundings and once we attended the first team meeting, we showed Sabrina her uniform. Although it took a few days for her to try on her shirt, she seemed to understand that she would now be wearing it to our “Soccer Saturdays”. Her first day of soccer, the team showed up for practice and warm up and she was assigned a VIP Buddy, who happened to be one of the players who she has grown up with. She followed along as the group began their stretches and began passing, kicking and then eventually practicing to shoot the ball into a goal.
After the warm-up, it was Game Time! Sabrina was guided by her Buddy during the first few minutes, and then when it was her turn to kick off, she began to dribble the ball and she went straight towards the goal. One last kick and she scored!
As a special needs parent, watching from the sidelines as my daughter followed directions given by someone else, so I could watch her score the goal was such an overwhelmingly wonderful feeling. My husband and I hugged each other and I cried because this is what makes AYSO special. The fact that my daughter can be included and be just like any other kid, enjoying a wonderful sport, meeting new people, making new friends. That is what AYSO is about, and now my daughter is part of it.
Thank you to our home region of Fontana AYSO 136, our wonderful VIP Program Coordinator Jennifer Werner and the coaches and Buddies who make this experience so worthwhile for our daughter. Thank you AYSO, for bringing happiness to a girl, who now gets to play, instead of watching from sidelines.