On Sunday afternoons in Hoboken throughout the fall, a special group of athletes and coaches gathered to share the game they love through the New York Red Bulls Believe Program.
The Believe program is an outreach initiative for young athletes with special needs. Its goals and objectives reflect the philosophy of US Youth Soccer and the New Jersey Youth Soccer TOPSoccer program, and coaches are trained using the NJYS TOPSoccer curriculum. The Believe program forms part of the Red Bulls extensive player development system that caters to players at all levels of the sport.
“Our Believe program provides a great opportunity for our organization to truly connect with players of all ages and abilities,” said David Jervis, Director of Red Bull Training Programs. “Our community outreach efforts are focused on developing, engaging and inspiring the local soccer community. This program helps us firmly achieve those objectives.”
"TOPSoccer was born out of the idea that children with special needs should be afforded a way to play soccer like their mainstreamed or able-bodied siblings” said Rick Meana, Director of Coaching for NJ Youth Soccer. “The goal of TOPSoccer is to take the child from the sidelines and put them into the game."
“It’s an opportunity for them to play a game of soccer in a fun, challenging environment,” said Ross Crichton, a coach from the Red Bulls Youth Programs who headed up the Fall session of the program.
“It’s open to everyone,” continued Crichton. “That’s the best thing about it. Whatever special needs they have, they can all get together and just play the game of soccer.”
The free program is offered seasonally in Hoboken. The event offers a fun, supervised environment for children with special needs to play soccer and receive instruction from some of the best coaches in the area.
“To have access to a program that caters to children with special needs in the community is fantastic,” said Martin Karczewski, whose sons have participated in the program for the last two years. “Usually by Wednesday of each week my boys start asking about Red Bulls soccer. We can’t wait for the program to start again in the spring.”
"I thank the Red Bulls for continuing to provide this program that gives every child, regardless of their ability, a chance to learn and play sports," said Leo Pellegrini, Director of Health and Human Services for the City of Hoboken.
Red Bulls coaches, like Crichton, that have been specially trained and certified to work with children that have special needs are on hand at each course to ensure that proper learning takes place. All of the Believe Program coaches are TOPS certified, meaning they have completed seminars through New Jersey Youth Soccer about how to interact with children that have special needs.
“It’s all structured, but it’s very easy, simple games that everyone can play,” said Chrichton. “They can all jump in, they can all join in and play, it’s about building confidence and having fun.”
“Coach Ross creates a fun, engaging, inclusive and safe environment,” continued Karczewski, “which both stimulates and challenges the kids with different activities each week.”
“It’s very rewarding to see the players,” said Crichton, who has been with the Red Bulls since 2010, and has coached in the Believe Program several times.
“There are kids that show up every week, and you build quite a strong relationship with them. You can tell they look up to you, which is nice. The kids always want to come back and they’re all eager to learn.”
In addition to Hoboken, the Believe Program also runs regularly in Harrison, N.J. Another session in Westwood, N.J., also ran this fall. New Jersey Youth Soccer and its partner organizations operate outreach programs for players with special needs throughout the state of New Jersey. Information on future programs can be found on the Red Bulls Training Programs and Camps page.