Posts Tagged ‘Soccer’

Soccer drills for children with autism spectrum disorders and other disabilities should be easy, fun

July 4, 2010

With the U.S. soccer team advancing to the second round of the World Cup last month, soccer got a bump in interest in the U.S.

Though the U.S. is long gone from the tournament, the semifinals and finals coming up this week and next weekend present a good opportunity for children to watch the games on TV and get interested in the sport.

For children with autism and other disabilities, soccer is one of the best team sports to attempt, since it is fairly simple and doesn’t require a lot of equipment.

Playing soccer and other sports, exercising, and developing motor skills are areas that are often overlooked and under appreciated when it comes to therapy for children with autism. Sports and exercise can even improve social and cognitive skills for children with autism. Most importantly, soccer and other sports are fun.

To see the rest of my article on, click here.


World Cup soccer: bad kicks and worse calls

June 20, 2010

Let me preface this by saying I am by no means a great soccer player. I do think it’s just about the most fun sport I’ve ever played, but I haven’t played in a league since I was 12, played a bit of intramurals in college, and played some pickup games a few years ago.

I don’t have any speed, quickness, dribbling ability or endurance. However, unlike some of the players in the World Cup, I can get a shot on goal.  I know it sounds ridiculous, maybe incredibly naive or arrogant to say that – they’re under great pressure and have people chasing them.

But if I had a clear shot on goal that was within the penalty box, I’m pretty sure that I would get a shot on goal, making the goalie make a save, or at least not miss the goal by a whole lot. Some of these guys are missing the goal by a mile.  They kick it so far above the goal or so far to the right  or the left of it, it’s hard to believe. So, yes, if I had a clear shot with no one covering me, I’d kick it on goal or at least make it respectable.

Second, the call against the U.S. in the last game against Slovenia disallowing Maurice Edu’s apparent winning goal was a terrible call – everybody agrees with that. Let’s hope that that call was just a mistake and not part of some scandal. The ref wouldn’t even tell the players after the game what the call was. If anything, it should have been a penalty kick for the U.S. because two players were being held.  Before you say no, there was a scandal in Italian soccer four years ago. The goal could mean the difference between the U.S. advancing and not advancing.  And how about one of Brazil’s goals today against Cote D’Ivoire? It looked like a possible hand ball, and after the goal, the ref was joking about it with the Brazilian player.

Kornheiser and Wilbon: Who cares about New York and Chicago?

May 21, 2010

I’m so sick of Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon constantly talking about how they are from New York and Chicago, respectively.  Who cares?  You’ve been in Washington longer than those places but you’re constantly disassociating yourselves from DC by bragging about how you’re from New York and Chicago.  Wilbon now lives in Phoenix but still writes for the Washington Post.  People shouldn’t write for a newspaper unless they live in that town.

Another thing – they both like watching the World Cup but won’t admit that they like soccer.  Like every other sports media person in the U.S., they find it fashionable to bash the sport because it’s not cool among the fat sportswriters.

Recap of David Beckham and L.A. Galaxy – D.C. United Game from August

November 22, 2009

Tonight David Beckham, Landon Donovan and the L.A. Galaxy take on Real Salt Lake for the Major League Soccer championship in Seattle.

I saw Beckham play against D.C. United in August.  The game ended in a scoreless tie.  It was raining steadily most of the game and it had rained heavily beforehand.  So here are a few notes — three months late.

United’s Ben Olsen did a good job keeping Beckham in check.  I got the feeling that Beckham wasn’t going all out because of the conditions, but I’m not sure if you can blame him because he’s had some ankle injuries, and at 34 he has to pace himself because of the occasional call-up to England’s national team as well as playing in Europe the rest of the year.

What at first seemed like nonchalance, though, actually was the result of good positioning and little wasted motion, as Beckham knew where to go  – he never got too far forward or too far back.  He did have some of his patented free kicks but nothing too spectacular.  He seemed relaxed and confident.

The RFK Stadium crowed booed Beckham which I thought was good because it showed that they were true soccer fans rooting for the home team rather than just going to see Beckham.  The atmosphere at RFK is great and fan club Barra Brava was in full force. The local media did not do a good job of publicizing the game, so that combined with the weather and there being a Redskins preseason game and a Nationals game resulted in a crowd of about 22,000, only slightly more than usual.

Other notes from the game:

  • Beckham seemed content to hang back and set up others instead of charging to the goal when it seemed like he had a few opportunities to dribble up and take a shot.
  • I didn’t see a lot of verbal communication between Beckham and Donovan.
  • There were a couple of times Donovan could have kicked it back to Beckham but chose to keep it or pass to someone else.
  • Beckham didn’t use his left foot much.

All in all, it was a pretty even game without a lot of great scoring chances.  Donovan showed some of his straight ahead speed during several charges to the goal.

It sounds like Seattle is a great soccer town, averaging 30,000 fans per game, with a sold out crowd of about 45,000 expected for tonight’s match.  If sports media outlets such as ESPN would give soccer more airtime, I’m sure it would do better among fans.

Ohio Wesleyan University Transcript: 20 Years Later

September 27, 2009

I went back to the archives to pull out an article I wrote 20 years ago as the Sports Editor of the Transcript, the Ohio Wesleyan University student newspaper, the oldest independent student newspaper in the nation.

The article below was about an eventful soccer game, and after the paper came out, the OWU coach told me he appreciated the fact that I didn’t make the brawl the main focus of the game.

Here is the article, from 20 years ago.  The paragraphs seem short because the paper had columns that were about 1.5 inches wide.

Men’s Soccer Team Wins Brawl-Marred Game

By Mike Frandsen, Sports Editor

Charlie Blanchard scored a goal in the opening minutes of each half to lead the Ohio Wesleyan men’s soccer team to a 2-1 victory over Oakland (Michigan) in a physical battle Friday at Roy Rike Field.

“This was our best win of the year,” said Bishops coach Jay Martin.

Blanchard also scored a goal in a 2-1 loss at Wilmington Tuesday.

Bishops Still No. 1 in Nation

Oakland, last year’s Division II runner-up, came into the game off a win over Division I Cleveland State.

The Bishops, ranked No. 1 in the nation in Division III, improved their record to 14-3.

“They have a good team,” said Pioneer coach Gary Parsons.  “They played a good, high-pressure game.”

The game was marred by a bench-clearing brawl with just over a minute left in the game.  Blanchard and Domenic Romanelli of Ohio Wesleyan and Alan Stewart of Oakland were each issued red cards.  A red card is an automatic one-game suspension.

Blanchard Scores Two

Blanchard scored just four minutes into the game on a penalty kick after teammate Bob Barnes was tripped by an Oakland defender in the penalty box.

The rest of the half went back and forth with each team having chances to score.

Ohio Wesleyan went into the locker room at halftime with a 1-0 lead.

Blanchard scored another quick goal to open the second half, this time less than two minutes after the intermission.  Romanelli assisted on Blanchard’s 18th goal of the year.  With 20 minutes left in the game Earl Parris had a breakaway for Oakland. Bishop defender Basil Levy tripped Parris and was called for a foul.

Kaplan guessed wrong on the penalty kick and broke to his right as John Stewart put the ball in the other side of the net.

Oakland’s best chance to tie the game came two minutes later when Paul Phillips outran two Bishop defenders.  But Kaplan grabbed the ball and made one of his 11 saves for the game.

Bench Clearing Brawl

The bench-clearing brawl occurred with 1:25 remaining in the contest.

Romanelli was dribbling the ball in Oakland territory in front of the Bishop bench.  Alan Stewart of the Pioneers kicked Romanelli in the leg right after Romanelli kicked the ball away.  Romanelli turned around and shoved Stewart, and Stewart shoved Romanelli back.

Then, all hell broke loose.

Several Ohio Wesleyan players left the bench and ran after Stewart. Immediately, every player on both teams ran from the field or the bench and an all-out brawl ensued.  Martin tried to break up the fight as did the referees but the melee lasted for several minutes.

At least five different fights were in progress at the same time near the sideline.

Coaches Upset

Parsons was furious after the game.  “I don’t approve of the fact that their (Ohio Wesleyan’s) bench unloaded on a player on the field.  That is not a class act.”

Martin agreed.  “I am mad about it too.  It was 100 percent wrong.”

Blanchard said, “They just went out to protect Domenic.”

Bishop midfielder Eric Warn said Martin had mixed emotions in the locker room after the game.

“He said he feels great and at the same time feels terrible because we came together as a team but the fight is not something he likes to happen,” Warn said.

Referees Criticized

Parsons said the referees let the game get out of hand by not calling enough fouls on both teams.

“The referees allowed the players to foul from behind,” he said.  Parsons said most of the non-calls should have gone against the Bishops.

Martin pointed out that the referees called 19 fouls against the Bishops and only eight against the Pioneers.  Martin added that the referees did lose control of the game.

Martin said that the Oakland game, which followed a 2-1 loss to Wilmington Tuesday, might have been a turning point for the Bishops.

“If we didn’t play well we would have been in trouble the rest of the season,” Martin said.

Ohio Wesleyan will end its NCAC schedule against Denison Saturday in Granville.

Martin said the Bishops need to beat either Kenyon or Denison to receive an NCAA tournament bid.

Sports for Children with Autism

July 23, 2009

There was a good article in the Washington Post yesterday about a boy with autism who swims on a local swim team.  Kids with autism can benefit a lot from playing sports, as can their neurotypical peers from having them on the teams.  Swimming is one of the better sports for kids with autism because it is both individual, without a lot of complex requirements, yet still social in that kids are still part of a team.

Participating in sports can help kids with autism and other disabilities in many ways.  Sports give kids with disabilities confidence, improve socialization, get more oxygen to the brain, improve coordination, help them stay in shape, help them sleep better, improve cognitive function by improving proprioception (the body’s sense of where it is in space), and reduce inappropriate behaviors.  Improvements in fine and gross motor skills often go hand in hand with improvements in academic and cognitive function.  Certain exercises can relax kids and even help align both hemispheres of the brain.  And of course, sports are also a lot of fun.

Kids with autism often like swimming, trampoline, and swinging.  This gives us clues on what kind of sensory input they need.  What is the best sport for children with autism?  I tried to answer the question a couple of years ago at  I think the real answer is, “Whatever they like best.”  In order to find out whatever they like best, we need to get rid of our preconceived notions and expose them to as many athletic opportunities as possible.  I learned this after coaching a child in soccer a few years ago who ultimately ended up playing hockey.  I never would have thought hockey would be a great sport for kids with autism because of the need to skate and handle a stick simultaneously, but it turns out that it can be great, and it just goes to show that we shouldn’t put limitations on anyone.

Sports can be more effective for kids with disabilities when they are mixed in with academics and social skills.  You can do a half hour of sports followed by a half hour of schoolwork, followed by a half hour of social skills.  Each area helps the child generalize and build on the previous one. Sometimes people make the mistake, though well intentioned, of segregating each activity to the point where each one is facilitated by different specialists who, worst-case scenario, don’t coordinate and communicate with each other.  In any case, each activity should transition and relate to the others, and ideally, you can do some academic work while moving at the same time.  One example is to play catch or jump on a trampoline while answering questions.  This helps with sensory integration.  Yoga is also great for balance and relaxation, and deep breathing and meditation exercises can help improve the attention spans of children and reduce unwanted behaviors at the same time.

For a high functioning child, you can have him or her play in a league with typical peers, preferably a couple of years younger than the child who has autism.  The child has a “shadow” who helps integrate him or her with the other children athletically and socially.  I’ve facilitated in this way, and also coached Special Olympics soccer, and both can be great depending on the situation.  See for ideas on drills.  It’s the same concept as in school – sometimes it’s best for kids to be mainstreamed into the typical school environment, and other times it’s best for them to be in a self-contained (special education) classroom, and often the best of both worlds is a combination of both, depending on the situation.

Exercises are great, but it’s best to do ones that are meaningful in the context of sports, so that children can eventually be part of a team, or at least play in impromptu games after school, or even use imagination to make up their own games.  It’s how kids learn best – not just sitting at a desk doing work, but getting along with others, being spontaneous, thinking on the fly.

A lot of people are familiar with the amazing story of Jason McElwain, an autistic teenager who scored 6 three-point baskets for his high school team a few years ago.  This type of success doesn’t happen a lot, but it would never happen if too many limitations are put on children who have autism and other disabilities who want to play sports.

I’d like to add one other thing.  While parents shouldn’t push their kids too hard into sports, they should expose them to sports and in some cases kids may need a nudge.  You wouldn’t tell your child who says, “I don’t want to do math” that it’s ok to avoid homework just because he or she doesn’t want to do it.  Math is necessary and good for kids.  Sports may be good for them as well, so don’t be so quick to say, “He doesn’t want to do it.”  In any case, it’s better to try something new that to do the same things over and over.  Sometimes I think parents are more autistic than the kids themselves – not willing to try anything new, just doing the same old x number of hours of therapy sitting at a desk in a vacuum.  And playing sports is certainly better than sitting inside and watching TV.

Ok, that reminds me, I have one other thing to add.  Today, a lot of kids play video games, and one video game that can be beneficial is the Nintendo Wii, which has simulated sports that can create an interest in real sports (tennis, bowling, baseball), as well as fitness (yoga, exercises, and running).

For people in the Bethesda/Montgomery County, MD/Washington, DC areas, there are several sports-related opportunities for children with autism.

  • Kids Enjoy Exercise Now (KEEN, is a free, volunteer-run sports program for kids with disabilities.  There is a waiting list that was up to a year long the last time I checked, but they don’t turn anyone away unless they are over 21.  KEEN has a general sports program, a swim program, a music program, and a Teen Club for higher functioning children to do outings.  KEEN has chapters in Bethesda, Washington, DC, and several more across the country, and even a few in England, where KEEN began.
  • Sports Plus, based in Germantown, MD, has sports leagues for kids with high functioning autism (
  • Fitness for Health in Rockville has some excellent equipment and specializes in one on one training sessions.  See
  • Special Olympics provides sports for not only children but also adults with disabilities:  The Special Olympics national website is
  • There are a few youth hockey programs in the area such as the Montgomery Cheetahs (

Elsewhere, check with your local schools and governments, or search the web to see what is out there.


December 4, 2008

I have to say that soccer will always be the sport with the best memories for me.  Playing every spring and fall as I did growing up for five and a half years – 11 seasons — was really great.  I was only an average player – I made an all-star team once as a defender.  But it’s just such a fun, simple, pure game.  I remember at recess in elementary school it was the thing to do.  There were so many kids on the field it was ridiculous.  It must have been 20 on 20.  Part of the problem with soccer in the U.S. is that once kids reach middle school age, the number of recreational leagues goes down.


I’ll admit that I don’t have the patience to watch a lot of soccer on TV.  Like hockey and baseball, soccer is a lot more fun to watch in person.  But what really gets me is the arrogant attitude that the U.S. sports media has on soccer.  It’s one thing not to like the sport very much, but to openly have such disdain for it is really over the top.  It’s not uncommon to hear sportscasters ridicule the sport, being proud of their ignorance, and dismissing it completely.  I actually believe that the lack of respect the U.S. sports media gives soccer is emblematic of the way many Americans view the world – as if we are the center of the world, and we don’t care to understand other cultures.  Is it possible that the whole world is wrong about soccer?  It is awesome to hear European or South American fans chant in unison for their teams. 


There is actually a slice of that flavor and passion in the U.S.  DC United, the Washington team in Major League Soccer (MLS), draws about 15,000 fans a game.  Though not a huge number, those fans are incredibly raucous, chanting for United and singing rhythmically.  It doesn’t hurt that they play at old RFK Stadium, where the bleachers literally shake.  It’s amusing to hear some people say that they don’t understand soccer.  Isn’t it the simplest of all the major sports?


Another thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that there was a moderately successful pro soccer league in the U.S. in the late 70s.  The North American Soccer League had the New York Cosmos, led by world superstars Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia.  They actually used to sell out Giants stadium, averaging 70,000 fans per game.  Those players were superstars in New York for a few years.  The Washington Diplomats often sold out RFK Stadium when the Cosmos came to town and had solid average attendance figures of around 20,000.  I went to an English Premier League match in 2004 where the stadium only held about 22,000 (Fulham FC).  However, too many of the NASL’s stars were in New York and the league expanded too fast, and the NASL folded in 1984. 


Much to the dismay of the U.S. sports media, MLS is slowly gaining interest in America.  If the sportscasters and sportswriters in the U.S. paid more attention to it, and if ESPN devoted more time to it, the sport would gain more fans.  However, nobody wants to take chances and mess up a successful TV formula of pro football, basketball, baseball, hockey, golf, and auto racing.  Meanwhile, baseball’s popularity may be waning.  The 2008 American League Championship Series was on TBS.  TBS?