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Closing to Fall TOPSoccer Season: Changing Lives Through the Joy of Soccer

Manal Layachi

Volume 4 Issue 2

January 16, 2024

Closing to Fall TOPSoccer Season: Changing Lives Through the Joy of Soccer

Images provided by Manal Layachi

TOPSoccer stands for “The Outreach Program for Soccer.” It is a soccer program for young adults and children who have physical/intellectual disabilities ranging from ages four to nineteen. TOPSoccer was founded in 1978, and there are now twenty-six LIJSL clubs with this program. My father, Azzedine Layachi, founded the Valley Stream Soccer Club TOPSoccer program in December of 2014. There were no soccer programs that fit the needs of my brother Zak, so my father created it for the Valley Stream community. In addition, Azzedine was named TOPSoccer Coach of the Year in 2016 by the LI Herald. His son, Zakarya Layachi, is the cofounder of this program. As the daughter of Azzedine Layachi, I have been volunteering as a “buddy” in this program for seven years and I greatly enjoy it. It feels good helping kids in my community learn and enjoy the beautiful game of soccer, a sport that I have played and loved since I was four. Furthermore, my brother Elyas, who is now in college, has been volunteering since he was nine. He also enjoys playing soccer and spending time with children, as he is a camp counselor during the summer, and has been playing soccer since he was four.  

Working together with my family to benefit the community makes our bond stronger and makes us feel good as we are changing the world through the joy of soccer. Every Saturday since 2014, we have held the TopSoccer practice at Brooklyn Avenue Elementary School from 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm. We first start off by helping the children warm up and get ready to play. My father always likes to count ten in the wrong way. For example, one, two, four, nine, a hundred, two hundred twenty, ten. He would ask the kids, “Did I count right?” They would laugh and reply “No!” Building connections with the children creates a positive and peaceful environment while also making the experience more fun. After the warmup, I lead some of the aerobic exercises and then my father asks the kids to chase me until they tag me. I always look forward to this part as I love seeing if the kids can run fast enough to catch me. It’s always fun! Next, we do some foot drills such as hurdles and the ladder.  

Then, we set up two stations for a drill where the players have to dribble between the cones and then shoot the ball in the goal from far away. After this comes the best part of all, the parachute! Everyone holds one handle and then a ball is put in the middle. We all have to get up and lift the parachute and our goal is to get the ball in the air and out of the parachute. This is the kids’ favorite part. In addition, we lift the parachute high into the air, and then we move in a circle and sing “Ring Around the Rosie.” When we get to the part “We all fall down,” we bring the parachute to the ground and collapse. Lastly, we play a scrimmage. All the players are congratulated when they score a goal. The volunteers help the players that are on their team. At the end of the scrimmage, we all sit down and reflect on the session. My father asks the kids questions such as “How many goals did you score?” and “What was your favorite part about today’s session?”  

For our last practice of the 2023 fall season, we met up with the players at Fireman’s Field, the Valley Stream Soccer Clubhouse. We did the usual warmup, aerobic exercises, chasing of one of our volunteers, hurdles, dribbling through the cones, and the parachute. During our scrimmage, the players got to play with a jumbo-sized soccer ball. The kids had a lot of fun as it was intriguing playing with a huge soccer ball. I enjoyed watching and helping them play. It’s amazing seeing some of our veteran players’ growth and development over the years. My father, Elyas, Zakarya, and I are extremely proud of their hard work and dedication to the sport. As it started to get cold, we decided to head inside and give out the awards. Every player received a medal and took a picture with coach Azzedine. It was heartwarming seeing the smiles on every kids face. After that came the best part, the snacks, and drinks! We had a great season, and I am glad the kids had fun! I cannot wait for the spring season! 


Additionally, I interviewed Azzedine Layachi, the founder of the Valley Stream program.  

What motivated you to create the TOPSoccer program in 2014? 

“Having a son on the autism spectrum who expressed an early interest in the "beautiful game of soccer" I started searching for a suitable place or program for him. I found none for him in regular soccer programs in Valley Stream and surrounding towns until I discovered The Outreach Program for Soccer, commonly known as TOPSoccer, for special-needs youth in West Hempstead. After a year, I decided to ask the Valley Stream Soccer Club where my other two kids were enrolled if I could create a TOPSoccer program in the club. This is how Valley Stream acquired its first TOPSoccer program in 2014. Dozens of kids with special needs have enjoyed it since then.” 


What is your favorite part about TOPSoccer? 

“The whole program is a favorite weekly activity, including seeing these wonderful kids attend a sports activity that caters to their own needs and interests with open arms, respect and consideration. Seeing them slowly acquire soccer skills, learn to play with others, and become independent in the field brings a lot of joy for me and their parents.” 


Do you love teaching kids how to play soccer? 

“Yes, very much. I fell in love with soccer at a very early age when we did not have the luxury of grass fields or modern sports facilities. I often played with friends in the street, using “balls” made of bags stuffed with rags. That passion for the sport never left me and I decided to pass it on to the next generations by coaching.  Besides TOPSoccer, I have also coached, at the same time, a Travel team for girls and another one for boys. Both teams ended up winning the championships of their respective divisions and the girls team won the 2019 Long Island Cup.” 


Will you continue to hold this program in the future? 

“Yes, for as long as I can, with the hope that younger coaches will also acquire interest in getting involved and maybe one day lead this and other sports programs for children with special needs.” 


I interviewed Zak, the cofounder, and a participant of this program. 


What led you to cofound this program? 

“I wanted to provide myself and other kids an opportunity to play soccer.” 


What is your favorite part about TOPSoccer? 

My favorite part of Top Soccer is giving people with disabilities an opportunity to grow and mature and to develop an enjoyment for soccer. 


What is your favorite thing about soccer? 

“My favorite thing about soccer is that it brings people together no matter the race ethnicity or religion.” 


What do you recommend the program adds in the future? 

“A couple of advances I would add to the program is an organized routine to keep everything organized.” 


Elyas Layachi, a “buddy”, was interviewed. 

How do you think the fall season went? 

“Even though I wasn’t at every practice, I think the fall season went very well. At the practices I attended, I noticed many new faces, and everyone seemed to be having a great time.”  

Do you feel that everyone made progress? 

“I definitely feel that everyone made progress. Even if they didn’t necessarily improve at soccer, I know the players definitely improved their social skills or even started loving soccer, which is definitely progress in my book.” 


Do you love spending time with kids and teaching them how to play soccer? 

“I do love spending time teaching kids how to play soccer - it's one of the main reasons why I’m an education major. I love helping the players learn how to play soccer, and when they learn a new skill or even get out of their comfort zone, I find such accomplishments very rewarding for both the player and myself.” 


What do you enjoy most about volunteering in the TOPSoccer program? 

“The thing I enjoy most about TOPSoccer is the sense of community it creates for its volunteers and its players. It is an opportunity for everyone in Valley Stream to come together, play soccer, and help the community, which is beautiful.” 


What would you like to see more of? Why? 

“ I would definitely like to see more players and volunteers at TOPSoccer, especially because it’s a great experience for both and the program is meant to serve the entire community.” 


Are you excited for the spring season? Why? 

“Yes, I am very excited for the spring season, especially since it means new volunteers and players could join the program!” 


I interviewed Bouchra Zerhouni, who has been coming to support her family since the start of the program and is Azzedine’s wife and the mother of Elyas and Zakarya. 


How long has Zakarya been a part of the Valley Stream TOPSoccer program? 

“Zak has been a part of the TOPSoccer program since he was five years old. He used to go to the Hempstead TOPSoccer program, then Azzedine created the Valley Stream one for him.” 


What is your opinion on the program? 

“The program is nice and engaging for the kids with disabilities. However, we need more volunteers to assist the kids and the coaches.” 


How has TOPSoccer impacted you and your children’s lives?  

“TOPSoccer has given me a different perspective on life. I have become more grateful for what I have. My children are more responsible and compassionate as a result of participating in this program.” 


What is your favorite thing about the program? 

“My favorite thing about the program is the sense of community that it brings to the players, volunteers, parents, and coaches.” 


Romi, one of our veteran players, and her mother were also interviewed.  



Do you love to play soccer? 

“Yes, she absolutely loves it.” 


Why? “It's fun.” 


What is your favorite thing about TOP Soccer? 

“Seeing the volunteers and players each week and socialize.” 


What is your favorite activity that we do during practice? 

“The parachute activities.” 


Are you excited for the Spring season? 



Ms. Lilach Koch: 


How long has Romi been a part of the Valley Stream TOPSoccer program? 

“For 6 years.” 


How did you hear about TOPSoccer? 

“Through a community member.” 


What is your opinion on the program? 

“Very inclusive and accommodating. Everyone is truly nice and supportive.” 


How has TOPSoccer impacted you and your children’s lives? 

“Helped keeping Romi physically and socially active.” 


What is your favorite thing about the program? 

“That Romi gets an ‘off’ time from her cellphone.” 


In essence, TOPSoccer not only helps build relationships with children but also changes lives through the joy of soccer. Remember, you do not need experience in soccer if you would like to participate in this program. If you want to become a “buddy,” experience is also not needed, so if you are interested, join us in creating memories that will last a lifetime and help us provide kids with disabilities with lifechanging opportunities.  


Coach Azzedine Layachi’s Contact information: 


Phone number: (718)-66-7420 

If you know any young person who could benefit from this program, please contact. 

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