A new club for budding young athletes has launched in Galway — the Galway Special Olympics Young Athletes Club welcomes children and their families into the world of Special Olympics by showing how all children can be valued for their talents and abilities.
What does every child want? The chance to kick a ball, to throw it well and to share that success with their family members. What does every child with intellectual disabilities want? The exact same thing.
The Special Olympics Young Athletes (SOYA ) Programme, is a play and sport activity for children from 4-8 years with an intellectual disability and introduces them to a wide range of play activities in a familiar, supportive and fun environment.
SOYA was launched nationally last year, but this is the first such club in Galway and complements the existing network of Special Olympics clubs in the city and county which offer opportunities to excel in physical activity including gymnastics, swimming, soccer, rugby and equestrian sports.
Club chairperson Ann Cormican spoke of her delight to be chosen as chairperson of a vibrant club. “My input is easy. I help out each week, arrive with a smile and leave with a wide grin. The young athletes are the stars in our group bringing fun and energy every day. I am honestly bowled over by the enthusiasm of the parents who got involved in the club with me.”
The club was officially launched by John Mulligan of Galway Bay FM. John, who has had a long involvement with Special Olympic. He was joined by Myra Merrick, Kitty Tierney and Mary Ann McBrien (Special Olympics Connacht ). There were also special guests on the day including some fabulous stilt walkers from Galway community circus (Bridget Mac Lochlainn, Paula and Enya Eglite ), Matthew Burke and Eddie the Eagle (Connacht Rugby ) and Fabienne Cooney (Galway LGFA ). The club’s head coach, Angie Griffin took the athletes through their activities, as they showcased their talents in front of the audience filled with the onlooking faces of family and friends.
“When I first heard Special Olympics was introducing the Young Athletes Programme, I knew that it would instantly be a huge success and was excited to see the programme rolled out across the country,” said Angie Griffin.
Great introduction to sport
“When I was asked to get involved in the first club to open up in Galway, I was honoured and jumped at the chance. From a coach’s point of view, the programme itself is a great way to introduce young children to the FUNdamentals of sport in a fun, positive and socially inclusive environment, not only for the children themselves but for the parents too. And we all know the benefits of sport in our lives! “
“As a parent myself I found that as our children grow older they become more independent and with the rushing of everyday life sometimes the opportunity to play can be interrupted, but every Saturday morning during our training session our fantastic athletes and their parents get a whole session of interactive fun and play through sports, and there are very few programmes like it out there!”
“As a gymnastics coach, with the Galway SO Gymnastics Club, Gymnastics Coach on the SO Connacht Team and as a Gymnastics coach on the Ireland Special Olympics Team, I have seen first hand how beneficial and important it is, that at a young age athletes receive good coaching practices with programmes that tailor their needs and help them prepare for when they eventually move on to their chosen sports club,” she added.
She said that working with these young athletes is like working with a blank canvas and as their coach it is hugely exciting to be part of the beginning of their journey with sport, to watch them develop their skills as athletes, to watch them grow into young adults and progress over the next few years.
“Where hopefully, I will get to watch them compete at club level, Regional level, Ireland Games and hopefully represent Ireland at the World Games. Their potential and opportunities are endless, and as their first coach I am immensely proud to be part of their fantastic journey, as they create lifelong memories and friendship through love of sport and Special Olympics,” she concluded.
Children learn how to play with others and develop important skills for learning. Children also learn to share, take turns and follow directions. These skills help children in family, community and school activities. Young Athletes is a fun way for children to get fit. It is important to teach children healthy habits while they are young. This can set the stage for a life of physical activity, friendships and learning. Special Olympics research found that children participating in Young Athletes experienced a seven-month gain in motor skills as well as a four-month advantage in development at a follow-up appointment.
The club runs sessions each Saturday at 10am in the gymnasium of the Lakeview School, Renmore, Galway, and invite all to come and try any Saturday. Parents and guardians also take part in the sessions which is led by qualified coaches.
The club is always looking for more volunteers to get involved and no experience is needed for the rewarding job. If you would like to volunteer at the club or become a member you can contact them on Facebook @GalwaySOYA, or email [email protected] . #PlayUnified