The Journal Gazette
Thursday, February 13, 2020 1:00 am

Grant helps train power wheelchair coaches

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

On Monday, U.S. Soccer announced $2.4 million in grants to 27 soccer programs across the country as part of the Innovate to Grow program, aimed at making soccer more accessible. One of the programs that received grant money is the U.S. Power Soccer Association, which got $14,000 to establish annual training sessions for its coaches.

Power Soccer is an adaptive sport for players in power wheelchairs. Jim Labas, a Fort Wayne resident who is the president of the sport's governing body in the United States, the USPSA, said power soccer is one of the only sports in which people who use power wheelchairs are able to participate.

The USPSA encompasses 545 athletes and 67 teams and in 2019 held its national tournament, the Conference Cup Series, at Fort Wayne's Turnstone Center. It will do so again this year, June 25-28.

The grant will add a formal training structure for the organization's volunteer coaching contingent, with the goal of getting as many coaches as possible into one place for classroom and practical on-court training.

With that training in hand, the USPSA hopes the coaches can return to their individual gyms and train their own assistant coaches. The training sessions will also be taped and placed in an online video library so those wishing to become involved can have a place to start.

“We just wanted to put together a uniform coaches certification and training to where, No. 1, we'd make sure all of our coaches are on the same level as far as safety awareness and safety enforcement,” said Labas, who before becoming USPSA president coached his son, who has cerebral palsy, in power soccer. “And also understanding what our sport is all about, how to help the athletes grow at the fastest and best rate that we can.

“If someone comes into a gym in a place where we don't have a team now and they get started and there's either a lackadaisical approach to the coaching or even a bad experience with the coaching, it's easy to see how (power soccer there) goes away real quick,” Labas added.

The goal of the Innovate to Grow program is to provide soccer programs with the money necessary to expand their programs in ways that wouldn't have previously been possible. The organizations, including USPSA, presented proposals for programs, such as the coaches training session, that they had not been able to fund in the past.

“It says a lot about U.S. Soccer,” Labas said of the grant program. “Rather than just the high-visibility women's team and men's team to go around the world, they're interested in promoting sport at every level and every ability and everywhere. That means a lot to us.”

For its part, U.S. Soccer said it is focused on expanding the sport in the United States.

“The expansion of the Innovate to Grow program in its third year demonstrates the deep commitment of our member organizations to making our sport more accessible,” U.S. Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro said in a statement. “We couldn't be prouder to partner with them to help grow the game in their communities.”

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