Fifteen-year-old Andrew is unstoppable—quite literally, according to his mom, Cathy. He loves all physical activity —anything that gets him up and moving—and is constantly in motion.
Andrew recently celebrated his 15th birthday, but his developmental age is lower. Andrew has Down Syndrome and is in grade nine with students who are developmentally delayed or have other disabilities. Because Andrew is in a smaller group setting separate from the rest of the school, Cathy says it can be harder for him to make friends.
Seeking opportunities for Andrew that allow him to get active and interact with other kids his age, Cathy signed him up for Sportball, a program offered through Down Syndrome Association of Toronto, funded in part by GoodLife Kids Foundation.
What is Sportball?
Sportball is a non-competitive fusion of popular sports. Kids learn the fundamentals of activities like basketball, soccer, and tennis by having the skills broken down into smaller adapted steps. Instead of shooting a basketball into a 10-foot-high hoop, for example, kids learn by throwing a ball through a hoola hoop.
Nancy Howson, Outreach Coordinator at Down Syndrome Association of Toronto, says the program works so well because it’s adapted specifically for kids with special needs.
“It can be difficult for kids with any special need to keep up with their typical peers,” she says. “But with Sportball, everything is completely broken down and modified. These kids are learning the skills and feeling that sense of accomplishment.”
Benefits and Life-Long Learning
The Sportball and Down Syndrome Association of Toronto staff and volunteers work closely with the children and teenagers to ensure all participants can work comfortably at their own pace. Unlike traditional physical activity programs, almost every participant in Sportball is paired with an instructor, offering kids the one-to-one support they need to succeed.
“We’ve tried other programs that aren’t adapted for kids with special needs, but they don’t work for us. I feel like I’m imposing or I’m ruining the experience for the other kids or staff,” Cathy says. “Andrew falls through the cracks.”
That’s why Cathy is so grateful for Sportball, Down Syndrome Association of Toronto, and the funding provided by GoodLife Kids Foundation. Andrew has benefited greatly from Sportball’s modified program, safe environment and instructors who are specially trained to work with kids with special needs. In just a few short months, Cathy says Andrew has absolutely flourished.
“He’s learning skills that will serve him in sports and in life,” Cathy says. “This is what makes him happy.”
Sportball teaches important skills that the kids and teenagers can bring out into their day-to-day lives, Nancy says. They learn to wait their turn, work in teams, follow rules, and even clean up after themselves.
“I’ve known most of the kids in this program since they were babies. Watching them find success in Sportball has been amazing,” Nancy says. “I have never in my 27 years working with kids seen such a successful program. We couldn’t have done it without GoodLife.”
GoodLife Kids Foundation raises funds to remove barriers and provide physical activity opportunities for kids with special needs all across Canada, just like Andrew. To date, GoodLife Kids Foundation has benefitted more than 257,000 kids across Canada!