Most young football fans dream of playing on the field as part of their favorite team: they want to be a defender or goalkeeper, win matches, and captivate fans with their game. Sports-minded kids with disabilities are no exception. Just like their peers, they want to reach great heights in football. Over the past year in Kropyvnytskyi, such children have had the opportunity to take the first steps towards their dreams. Thanks to the "Yes, I can!" program launched by the International Charitable Fund Parimatch Foundation, they started playing football systematically.
Supporting children is an investment in the future of our society
The first training session within the “Yes, I Can!” program in Kropyvnytskyi was held in the spring of 2021. Back then, it was a small group of 8-9 kids. However, the number of participants almost tripled over the year: now 26 children are mastering the world’s most popular sports game. Regular training strengthens them physically, improves their emotional state, and gives them a sense of fulfillment. The young footballers can make new friends in the group and build their teamwork skills.
The program “Yes, I Can!” helps children with disabilities engage in various kinds of sports under the guidance of expert coaches. Along with that, this project is an excellent investment into the progress of the whole country, as it draws the public’s attention to the need for barrier-free access to sports. As the Parimatch Foundation’s program manager Ekaterina Sakevitch points out: “The program ‘Yes, I Can!’ is vital for the entire country, since the kids it caters to are a significant part of our future. By facilitating their development and socialization, we can ensure that our society becomes more open-minded and tolerant”.
Both sport and overall development
Being a football coach for the project participants does not only require vast athletic experience one can share with the kids or the ability to teach them how to play the ball. This person should also be a genuine mentor who will instill the love for physical activity in the children, help them develop crucial character traits, and play a formative role in their personal growth. Evgeny Zinoviev, a Rio 2016 Paralympic champion and an internationally renowned professional athlete, fits this description exceptionally well. He has been coaching the kids since the very start of the “Yes, I can!” program in Kropyvnytskyi. Evgeny explains: “During the training sessions, every child can learn something new to hone both their football skills and overall development.
Football is not all about running around the hall or the football pitch. We also use sports equipment that improves dexterity, logical thinking, and cognitive skills. For example, the kids get a task to run when they see a certain color. Before this exercise, we still learn colors. I ask the children which color they see, where it is located, which direction they should run to, etc. They need to understand these things.”
Evgeny Zinoviev admits that some moments experienced during the training linger in the memory and leave no one indifferent. The athlete shares one such story with us: “There is one girl with severe autism in our group. Her mom always accompanies her during the training sessions, as she finds it hard to do anything on her own. Once her mom got distracted for a moment, the girl started climbing up the stairs all by herself. Then she saw other kids doing the exercises, copying their movements, jumping over the barriers, and returned to her mom. Everyone was shocked, including the mother, as her daughter had not been able to complete the tasks even with volunteers’ assistance. Some parents get emotional when witnessing such situations and start crying: they have almost lost all hope, and now they see such great results.”
Results of the first year of the program
The open training session at the end of December was the last public event of 2021 under the “Yes, I Can!” program. This event was attended, in particular, by Vitaliy Parkhomenko, director of CYSS No. 2, football player Aleksey Chichikov, head of the Kirovohrad Regional Football Association Viktor Bezsmertny, head of the “Mother’s Heart” NGO Lyudmila Shukruta, and director of the Youth and Sports Department of the Kropyvnytskyi City Council Vyacheslav Gursky. They have shared the project results, pointing out many achievements.
Vitaliy Parkhomenko is convinced that regular football training has become a new norm for the kids. The director of CYSS No. 2, which hosted the event, claims: “The result of the program is that it has united the kids through systematic training. Now they acquire new physical skills and enjoy socializing with their peers while learning new moves. The number of children attending the training sessions is growing continuously.”
“The ‘Yes, I Can!’ program is important not only for Kropyvnytskyi but also for the whole society.”
Vyacheslav Gursky, head of the Kropyvnytskyi City Council’s Youth and Sports Department, agrees with Vitaliy Parkhomenko. In his opinion, the most important achievement at this stage is that it was possible to involve children and their parents in the project. Vyacheslav notes: “Children and their parents had a chance to unite and collaborate. They have made new acquaintances and found something they can share and discuss together. It’s one thing for a child to grow in isolation and a completely different thing to engage in sport, especially play in a team and be praised for the achievements. The ‘Yes, I Can!’ program is important not only for Kropyvnytskyi but also for the whole society. I firmly believe that socialization of children with disabilities is our joint responsibility.”
The head of the Kirovohrad Regional Football Association, Viktor Bezsmertny, is convinced that sports are necessary for all children with disabilities in Ukraine. Viktor states: “Regular participation in sports helps a person overcome some shortcomings and become physically stronger. Therefore, I will always support engaging children in sports, as it is useful for them and will help them better adapt to society.”
One of the most inspiring outcomes is the emotions of the children looking forward to the next training because it brings them closer to the cherished sports victories. The head of the association for families of persons with disabilities “Mother’s Heart” Lyudmila Shukruta says: “For these kids, the training is a place of pure joy and socialization. They gladly attend the sessions even at early hours, when they could still be in their beds. First and foremost, the credit for this goes to the coach Yevhen Zinoviev. Most kids dream of becoming professional football players in the future, so the ‘Yes, I Can!’ project is a chance for them to make this dream come true.”