All it takes is patience and an understanding of soccer
Ryan Ziad is an example of a volunteer that truly gives all of himself to his causes – in the case of his 45 plasma donations, around 40 litres! Above all, Ryan has shown a strong 5 years (and counting) commitment to supporting the Special Olympics’ football branch through coaching.
As a football coach taking a New Zealand side to the Berlin Special Olympics in June 2023, he shares more about his volunteering journey and what the Special Olympics programme has to offer its athletes and society at large.
Ryan’s journey before coaching
Ryan was born in Kochi, India and during his upbringing spent both time there as well as Dubai and Bahrain. He was part of a strong Middle Eastern/Indian community that encouraged his involvement in playing sports.
Despite a long playing history he remains neutral in the ‘football versus soccer’ nomenclature debate! In India, he also began his volunteering through joining a blood donation club – a programme where local hospitals would advise when they needed help finding donors.
In 2014, he moved to Aotearoa New Zealand to enrol in the New Zealand Maritime School and received the New Zealand Shippers’ Council Award in 2016. Since then he has been employed in shipping logistics, as well as starting his own business during the core COVID-19 interrupted years.
When it came to picking a volunteering opportunity, he stressed the importance of enjoying what you do and have the right skills for, noting “other people need to reap the benefits of your time”.
As a keen soccer player, coaching was the next step for him and he started as a Volunteer Coach with Special Olympics in Auckland. This journey lead to participating in many domestic tournaments and he was named Head Coach for Auckland in 2019.
The importance of the personal connection
Special Olympics NZ’s purpose is “to enrich the lives of people with intellectual disabilities through sport” and Ryan believes this is crucial as their athletes have fewer opportunities to participate in sport and society generally. In the Auckland club, there is one weekend meeting a week that involves a segment on skills followed by a 45-minute game.
Having strong empathy for the athletes is paramount. While Ryan is not privy to their specific diagnoses, he underwent an online simulation during his training that was designed to replicate the experience of an athlete with heightened sensitivities to their environment. This means he has a better understanding of why an athlete might not come when called and other factors that affect their participation.
“Athletes need to enjoy training” and so Ryan actively seeks out the personal connection as a way of responding to the challenge of maintaining athletes’ attention and focus. He strives to ensure comfort zones are reached and that the athletes can be themselves.
He notes they express what they feel in both directions – while sometimes there is heightened negative feedback when they are struggling, this is outweighed by the “feeling the love” in other instances, such as when the coaches arrive to training to cheering and whistling. Ryan summarised the main requirement of the coaching role in one sentence “all it takes is patience and an understanding of soccer”.
Preparing for Berlin 2023
Aotearoa has qualified to compete in 2023 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Berlin, around 40 athletes competing during June 17-25.
A unique selection consideration for the Special Olympics is not just the athletic ability, but also the ability of the athlete to adjust to an unfamiliar environment and in many cases be away from their families for several weeks.
Ryan was named as a coach for the football squad, with JP Roux from Auckland named as an athlete in the squad. He is the first football coach from Auckland to attend the international games. In November 2022, the squad across all the codes met for a first training camp in Wellington.
Ryan shares that as a coach, he too needs to keep up and so has a regular exercise regime, including calisthenics. As the athletes are from across the nation, the coaches are focussing on building up a team more than personal skill development. He notes the importance of social time “teams are built outside the field too”.
Ryan’s commitment to volunteering was reflected in his application for citizenship being brought forward so that he was able to participate in Berlin. We look forward to seeing how he and the squad get on!
To learn more about Special Olympics and to explore volunteering opportunities:
• Visit the Volunteering Auckland website:
• E-mail Special Olympics
• Visit the Special Olympics NZ website
Written by Caitlin Craigie, VA Volunteer [Media Team] February 2023