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Special Olympics Soccer: Season of Teamwork & Success

Group photo of twelve members of the Bandits soccer team posing on the bleachers with their medals.

On a gray day in early November, the Bandits are playing their last game of the finals, rallying around a burst of momentum and an energetic section of fans. Following two hard-fought defeats from earlier in the day, the team eventually cruises to a 4-2 victory to close the soccer season. The win secures the Bandits a third place finish, and a bronze medal for everyone on the team. It is a fitting end to a successful season—one filled with new teammates, focused practice sessions, and an endless supply of enthusiasm. From scrimmages in the backyard of BHMA, to impressive finishes in both the qualifiers and the finals, head coach Joe Guvendiren says it is the most fun he has had out of three years of coaching.

Image of the Bandits soccer team huddling with their coach during the middle of a game.

The Bandits team was made up of newcomers and veterans—some were playing soccer for the first time, while others had many years of experience on the field. This dynamic presented an opportunity for the more seasoned players of the team to emerge as mentors. As Guvendiren describes, “the most effective way to teach any sports skill is peer learning—empower the teammates to be leaders.” The approach resulted in better practices than ever, with great communication and camaraderie. Guvendiren has nothing but praise when talking about the individual members of the Bandits. He makes sure to acknowledge each of them and their unique contributions on the field, stating “I felt like everyone had a role on the team.”  Each player is highlighted below: "Adam reached a whole new level this year; he shined. Ana Li is the best runner in open space; she is always so positive and so excited for every little accomplishment. Andrea had more enthusiasm for being on the team probably than anybody else; she was always on time, in her gear, ready to go and to learn. Ben played through an injury and was out there through key defensive plays. Brian is a model for what athletes do and he never stops trying. Cara gives it everything and maximizes her athleticism; she is a very reliable player. Connor can teach a lot to the newer members on the team; he was really feeling it in goal the day of the finals. Emma was great at calling out when she was open and getting other players’ attention; she has an in your face mentality on the field. Jordan took more shots than anyone this season and she loved being on the team. Jen and Michela acted as assistant coaches and were at every practice and helped keep teammates focused; they were just as valuable to the team as any of the players. Otto decided to run the show during the finals and he did; I will never forget it. Michael had some great corner kicks and started all the chants on the sidelines. Stephen is a very athletic guy; he was eager to be in goal and he played his best soccer at the qualifiers. Will saved the tournament, and he played real solid defense."

Image of seven Bandits team members posing together between games; an overcast sky is visible in the background.

When asked what is in store for next year, Guvendiren replies “hopefully gold” with a laugh. Medals are a great motivator for players, but they are secondary to the feeling of belonging that athletes experience when they are a part of a team. At its core, that is what participating in the Special Olympics is about—giving people with disabilities a space to engage in competition and to be involved in something that is bigger than themselves.

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