Kicks For Kids Brings Soccer to Children with Special Needs

by Jessica Frankeberger

A new USC organization is helping to bring physical fitness through soccer to a group of children that normally have very limited access to organized sports.

Started in September 2013, Kicks for Kids holds regular soccer games on campus throughout the fall semester for children with physical and developmental disabilities.

USC senior Zade Shakir, president and founder of Kicks for Kids, developed the program after attending USC’s Spirits in Action day, a carnival-like event held in March for kids with special needs.

There he was inspired by Erick, a young boy with autism who loves soccer but has very little opportunity to play.

After meeting Erick, Shakir was encouraged to give children like Erick a safe and fun environment in which to enjoy soccer.

“Children with physical and developmental disabilities are marginalized from mainstream sports programs because of their disabilities, and to me, that was an outrage,” Shakir said.

“I couldn’t imagine my childhood without organized sports, so to hear that these kids are prevented from playing in those programs really bothered me” Shakir added

In response, Shakir partnered with Spirits in Action and developed Kicks for Kids, which holds seven game days throughout the fall semester on McCarthy Quad.

According to Shakir, game days consist of a number of field activities for players and their assigned volunteer.

The day often starts with warm-ups and stretching, followed by some dribbling and shooting practice.  Groups often then play soccer mini-games such as “Red Light, Green Light” and “Sharks and Minnows.”

“Soccer helps with strength and flexibility from head to toe, as running and kicking engages your whole body,” Shakir said.

“Furthermore, it helps teach coordination and improvement of motor skills, and encourages team-building” he added.

Kicks for Kids has about 70 kids attend per day and continues to grow each week, as players and their families spread awareness about the program mainly through word-of-mouth.

According to Shakir, “Each week we have   several new families join us, who say they heard about our program from their friends that attended a previous week and had a great time.”

He added “The fact that families keep coming back each week, and bring their friends with them, tells us that we are doing a good job.”

Players come mainly from the local neighborhood and lower income areas. With this in mind, Shakir says he wanted to ensure a free and accessible program for everyone.

Most of the funding for Kicks for Kids comes from the university and donations by the Iraqi Medical Science Association. The USC Men’s Club Soccer team also allows Kicks for Kids to use their equipment each week.

On a single game day, Kicks for Kids has about 80 volunteers, but Shakir says they are constantly growing and looking for new volunteers to partner with the increasing number of players. All students are welcome and will receive a free t-shirt for volunteering.

For more information about Kicks for Kids, visit usckicksforkids.com. New volunteers should fill out the short registration form at the “Volunteer Registration” page on the website.

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