Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Street Soccer Athletes

As promised – the answer to question five from yesterday’s post. Linda Bacigalupi notes that:

These profiles will give you an idea of how we have seen soccer affect lives. I think people often overlook the importance of adjuncts to traditional treatment such as art and sport for addiction, mental illness, medical illness, or other challenges. Sport can be an effective therapeutic enhancement when focusing on treating the WHOLE individual.

First is the story of Randal:

Randal had watched the SSPORT soccer team practice once outside in the park when the weather was nicer but did not join in. His love of soccer led him to eventually join the team in December of 2007 when we started practicing on an indoor field and he has been a member ever since. To participate on the team, Randal has had to meet many challenges which he has done with grace including a knee injury for which he now wears a knee brace, a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, his struggle with Alcoholism which is now in remission. In addition he recently suffered a concussion from an injury incurred during the first scheduled indoor league game for SSPORT. As a matter of fact, when he fell on the field and sustained the concussion he immediately wanted to jump back up and continue playing saying, “I’m ready!” He, in fact, was back the next week at practice and anxious to play. It is that enthusiasm in addition to his excellent soccer skills, team-player attitude, and positive outlook that are such important assets to the team as a whole. He appreciates that soccer provides him an outlet for regular exercise which he is well aware impacts his mental health, gives him something to look forward to as “the week is so long when you don’t work”, and brings him joy as he has told us “soccer has always been such a big part of my life…I used to coach my kids.” Randal hopes to attend the national Homeless Cup games in Washington D.C. this June. Judging from all he’s overcome, there is little doubt he’ll be there, leading the SSPORT Team to victory.

Next up, Jon: Profile of an Ann Arbor Street Soccer Player

(This profile originally ran on the Street Soccer USA site back in February.)

2007 was both a year of hardship and tragedy as well as a year of hope and new beginnings for Jon. The 46-year-old divorced, unemployed, homeless man who had struggled with homelessness and Alcohol Abuse since his divorce about 15 years ago was sleeping on the streets, drinking regularly, and doing “nothing” with his life. One autumn night, while sleeping at his campsite, another homeless man suddenly attacked Jon and slammed his head into his full backpack several times, causing multiple head wounds including a broken nose, laceration of the ear, and tore hair from his head. Jon attempted to press charges but when he went to court, he was escorted out and told by security officers that he was “drunk” and therefore could not be in the courthouse. Jon stated he had not been drinking, but was so discouraged by the experience that he never pursued the assault charge.

In August 2007, Sara Silvennoinen, LLPC/CAAC of the Washtenaw County PORT (Project Outreach Team) program, organized and initiated a local soccer team for the homeless in Washtenaw County. She decided to call the team “The SSPORT,“ for “The Street Soccer PORT” Team. The PORT program is a unique initiative funded to, as the name implies, outreach to mentally ill homeless individuals in the community, engage with them, and provide treatment, and/or connect them with other appropriate services. As an outreach program, PORT staff also regularly has contact with the homeless population at large, regardless of a mental illness diagnosis. The invitation to take part in the SSPORT Team and begin practices in August, 2007 was extended to the entire local homeless population.

Jon just happened to be at the park where the soccer practices were being held one day, and with a little encouragement from Sara, decided to give it a try. He began attending practices regularly, and soon was learning to play goalie for the team. He has been the most consistent team member and has exhibited his commitment to mastering the position of goal keeper so that he can represent SSPORT and participate in the Homeless World Cup in Washington D.C. next spring. Several PORT and local shelter staff have noticed a marked change in Jon since he began playing with SSPORT. Unsolicited remarks made by staff have been that his mood and affect have been brighter, he has been more social, he has noticeably decreased his drinking, and he has been a voluntary PR representative for the team by encouraging others to join and support SSPORT.

Additionally, he is now living in an apartment with a friend for whom he has been appointed as payee, has followed up with medical treatment as encouraged by his SSPORT coach, has become more motivated to look for employment, has voiced a desire to learn to type, and is always the jokester at practices, making his teammates and coaches laugh. Jon’s love for the game was especially visible when he and several other teammates attended a Detroit Ignition (professional indoor soccer team) game in November 2007. Tickets had been donated by community members so that SSPORT players could attend. Jon was rapt in the goalies’ every move on the field and he learned some new skills he could apply to his game during practices. He has also taken it upon himself to go the library to learn more about goaltending.

Jon’s own perception of how Street Soccer has impacted him are that it “gives me something to look forward to”, “I’m loving the hell out of playing soccer!”, and “without soccer life would be depressing.” He is a valued member of the SSPORT Team and his coaches are very proud of the progress he has made both on and off the field. We look forward to bringing him and his teammates to D.C. to meet and learn from other Street Soccer players from around the country and also to have the opportunity to put their skills to the court in a real soccer competition.


Lindsay said...

This just goes to prove how sports really can change a person's life. I think how it was described in the beginning of this post sums it up pretty well when it is compared to art. Just like art can help with treating mental illness, being a part of a team and getting exercise is just as important. The things people like Sara Silvennoinen are doing are amazing and inspiring.

Apryl DeLancey said...

They are definitely inspiring and its great to know that there are people like her and Linda that are so passionate about it!