Kids with disabilities often get stuck on the sidelines. This boy is changing that.

When  Josh Kaplan was a kid, he had a pretty hard time fitting in.

“I had a terrible stutter,” he says. “I really struggled to make friends.”

Finally, Kaplan opened up to his parents about the difficulty he was having with classmates at school.


“They said, ‘Why don’t we sign you up for a soccer team?’” Kaplan says. And that decision changed everything.

“I discovered that you don’t have to be a leader who speaks,” he says. “You can lead with action instead.”

Kaplan's realization changed his perception of what he had to offer. As he got better at soccer, he got better at making friends too.

All photos via Josh Kaplan, used with permission.

But still something bothered him.

“One of my teammates had a brother with Down’s syndrome, and I noticed that he was kicking the ball around by himself on the sidelines,” Kaplan says. “I discovered that he played soccer alone because he didn’t have a team to play on.”

Soccer had helped Josh fit in — now he realized he could help others do the same thing.

“I had all the tools and skills necessary to share soccer with kids who weren’t able to experience the joy of the beautiful game,” he says.

He launched GOALS, which stands for Giving Opportunities to All who Love Soccer.

GOALS pairs up neurotypical kids and kids with disabilities to play in noncompetitive soccer scrimmages. Buddies, or kids without disabilities, work to make sure that all the athletes have an opportunity to play. In doing so, GOALS gives socially isolated kids an opportunity to make friends, learn about soccer, and be part of a team.

But it wasn’t always easy. In fact, Kaplan's first organized game was almost a failure.

Kaplan spent weeks emailing and cold-calling pediatricians, special needs groups, and parent advocacy groups to find kids interested in participating in the game. He received an overwhelmingly positive response, and over 40 kids signed up to play.

“But when it was time to play, only nine kids showed up,” Kaplan remembers. “I was so disappointed and even a little embarrassed.”

He was faced with a choice: give up or play the game. “I realized that those nine kids wanted to play soccer, and I couldn’t let them down,” he says. Now GOALS has grown to involve hundreds of children — but it all started with that first small scrimmage.

The games afford kids an amazing opportunity to understand and interact with kids who might be different from them.

Kids both with and without disabilities walk away from GOALS having gained new experiences and skills.

“The players who don’t have an intellectual disability, getting them to encounter someone who does have an intellectual disability teaches them really important skills,” Josh says, like patience, compassion, dedication, cooperation, and teamwork.

The athletes with disabilities learn something a bit more pragmatic — like becoming comfortable with interactions with other kids their age.

“Oftentimes a lot of kids with intellectual disabilities are isolated socially," Kaplan says. "Developing those key social skills and communication skills is really important."

Most importantly, though, is the fact that everyone gets a chance to play, interact, and be part of a team.

"Feeling valued and accepted is one of the most important aspects of GOALS," says Kaplan. Playing together, kids don't just make teammates — they make friends for life, friends they may not have had the opportunity to make otherwise.

Kaplan's philosophy is that sports helps people communicate in a new way, one that works for people of all abilities. That's why GOALS isn't just an organization for kids with disabilities. It's a program for the whole community, a community that includes people of all different abilities.

Soccer may just be a game, but with GOALS, it becomes so much more than that.

"Through sports," Kaplan says, "anyone can communicate that each of us is valued, each of us is a part of the team, and each of us is a friend worth having.”

More
The Guardian / YouTube

Earlier this month, a beluga whale caught the world's attention by playing fetch with a rugby ball thrown by South African researchers off the waters of Norway.

The adorable video has been watched over 20 million times, promoting people across the globe to wonder how the whale became so comfortable around humans.

It's believed that the whale, known as Hvaldimir, was at some point, trained by the Russian military and was either released or escaped.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Facebook / Maverick Austin

Your first period is always a weird one. You know it's going to happen eventually, but you're not always expecting it. One day, everything is normal, then BAM. Puberty hits you in a way you can't ignore.

One dad is getting attention for the incredibly supportive way he handled his daughter's first period. "So today I got 'The Call,'" Maverick Austin started out a Facebook post that has now gone viral.

The only thing is, Austin didn't know he got "the call." His 13-year-old thought she pooped her pants. At that age, your body makes no sense whatsoever. It's a miracle every time you even think you know what's going on.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Instagram / Katie Sturino

Plus-size women are in the majority. In America, 68% of women wear a size 14 or higher. Yet many plus-sized are ignored by the fashion industry. Plus-sized clothing is a $21 billion industry, however only one-fifth of clothing sales are plus-sized. On top of that, plus-sized women are often body shamed, further reinforcing that bigger body types are not mainstream despite the fact that it is common.

Plus-size fashion blogger Katie Sturino recently called out her body shamers. Sturino runs the blog, The 12ish Style, showing that plus-sized fashion isn't – and shouldn't be – limited to clothes that hide the body.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
via Twitter / Soraya

There is a strange right-wing logic that suggests when minorities fight for equal rights it's somehow a threat to the rights already held by those in the majority or who hold power.

Like when the Black Lives Matter movement started, many on the right claimed that fighting for black people to be treated equally somehow meant that other people's lives were not as valuable, leading to the short-lived All Lives Matter movement.

This same "oppressed majority" logic is behind the new Straight Pride movement which made headlines in August after its march through the streets of Boston.

Keep Reading Show less
popular