Washington Youth Soccer’s TOPSoccer program has helped brothers Nolan and Nick Garcia create an even stronger bond.
By Brian Beaky, PlayOn Editor
The first 12 years in the life of Nolan Garcia haven’t been easy. Beset with what his mother, Jennifer Garcia, refers to simply as “chronic health issues,” Nolan has difficulty hearing and speaking, and is unable to attend a regular public school. His disabilities have also prevented him from following in the footsteps of his older brother, Nick, a 17-year-old soccer player for Emerald Ridge High School and his local club.
That is, until a serendipitous visit to the speech therapist roughly two years ago, where Jennifer picked up a brochure promoting Washington Youth Soccer’s TOPSoccer program. The Outreach Program for Soccer, TOPSoccer creates an opportunity for players aged four and older, with physical and/or developmental disabilities, to enjoy the physical and emotional benefit of the game of soccer. Specially trained coaches run practices, while volunteers work individually with the players as buddies to create a supportive and fun environment.
To Jennifer, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.
“We were so happy to find TOPSoccer,” she says. “Nolan looks up to his brother, so it’s cool for him to be able to do the same thing that his brother is doing.”
Nolan, too, says that the opportunity to join his brother on the soccer field was one he had long looked forward to.
“I’d been watching my brother for a long time, and I really wanted to play,” he says.
Nolan quickly enrolled — but so did Nick, joining the program as a buddy specifically to work with his brother. For the last two years, the duo have been fixtures at TOPSoccer practices at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, where coach Christopher Gavin has helped the brothers connect on a new level through soccer.
“It’s been great to see Nolan have the chance to feel the confidence that kids get from playing sports,” Jennifer says. “When he’s playing soccer, he’s always happy and smiling, and proud of himself. He says, ‘People like me!’ It’s nice to see him be at the top of something.”
Nolan isn’t the only one who has discovered a new side to his personality through his participation in TOPSoccer.
“It’s really changed the outlook that I have,” says Nick. “I’m very grateful for what I have, and I enjoy being able to help my brother. I’ve been playing soccer for eight years, so it’s fun for us to be able to share that now.”
Nick noticed, though, that many of the other buddies had difficulty communicating with players who, like Nolan, were hard of hearing. So, with the assistance of Marty Torres, Washington Youth Soccer’s TOPSoccer Coordinator, he went to work creating a video to teach basic sign language to TOPSoccer buddies — signs like “Want to play soccer?” “feet,” and “team” that would be applicable to a TOPSoccer practice. The video, linked below, is believed to the first of its kind specific to TOPSoccer in the entire nation.
“Nick felt bad because if he couldn’t make a session, there was no one else there who could communicate with Nolan,” Jennifer says.
“I really wanted to do it for my brother,” Nick adds.
Now, thanks to Nick, TOPSoccer buddies across the state, and even the nation, can learn the basic signs to communicate with deaf and hard of hearing players in their programs. For the two Garcia boys, the entire experience has brought them closer.
“It’s been a positive experience for the entire family,” Jennifer says. “We’re very grateful that the program exists.”
To learn more about the Washington Youth Soccer TOPSoccer program, or to find one in your area, click the “TOPSoccer” tab under the “Programs” header at the top of the page.
SEE NICK GARCIA’S SIGN LANGUAGE VIDEO!