Olympiacos Piraeus forward and two-time Turkish Airlines EuroLeague champion Kostas Papanikolaou is spending his first season as the club's One Team Ambassador. He is actively involved in supporting the Greek giant's work with the School for Kids with Special Needs in Piraeus, which has the main objective of encouraging the participants to feel equal to their peers in society regardless of their disabilities. In this interview, he talks about why he thinks the One Team programme is so beneficial and explains why he got involved.
Why did you get involved in One Team?
"My first big personal involvement with One Team was at the end of last season, when players from all the EuroLeague clubs went to the league's headquarters in Barcelona for some meetings. On one of the days, we all took part in a One Team session with members of a local wheelchair basketball team, and it was amazing. From that session, I could see how much One Team can help people who are unlucky enough to have problems in their lives."
Why did that session have so much impact on you?
"It made me realize how strong your mind has to be when you are in these situations. To be in a wheelchair and keep on doing what you love, and do it so well like these kids were, it was something I had never seen before. I had the opportunity myself to sit in a wheelchair and try playing basketball, and it made me understand how hard it is and how much willpower you need to have. But it also showed me how much you can achieve even in difficult situations. Because of the power in their hearts, these kids didn't just sit in their chairs and give up on life, they carried on doing what they love, and that's a major accomplishment."
What has impressed you from the sessions you've done with Olympiacos?
"The sessions I've worked with are mainly with kids with mental and learning difficulties, who have problems with things like focussing on activities. But you can see how much they listen to what the coaches are telling them and how they enjoy the whole programme. They are learning about how to cooperate with each other and use the lessons from the court in real-life situations, but we're also able to have a good time and have some laughs, and that's exactly what One Team represents – being able to help people who need it. It's beautiful to spend a couple of hours playing basketball or doing other activities and see the kids smiling and enjoying themselves."
Do you see the participants change during the course of the programme?
"Yes, definitely. In the first few sessions, everything is a little bit strange for them, a bit of an unknown, and they're not sure how they should react or behave. But as the programme goes on and they get to know you more, they start to feel more relaxed and comfortable. They start to feel like the basketball court is their home, and are more confident with the people around them and the exercises they're doing. Having experiences like that can only help in their day-to-day lives, too."
From a personal point of view, what do you get out of your One Team involvement?
"Having the opportunity to do this kind of thing makes me feel like a better person. Life isn't only about yourself; it's also about other people. When I have the chance to make other people happy and see a smile on their faces, it's very satisfying to know I am playing a small part in making these kids happier. I don't know how to describe it in words, but when I see the joy in their faces it makes me feel like a better person and that I have a purpose in life."
What you learned through One Team?
"I have learned a lot of things. I have seen that life can give you a lot of problems, but if you know where to look and always have a positive mind, good things can still happen. If you try to communicate and be with people, you can always get better results than if you're just on your own and focussing on yourself. If you stay involved in activities with other people and express your problems, you can only get better."
One Team, supported by Turkish Airlines as the One Team Founding Patron and with the collaboration of Special Olympics as Proud Partner, uses basketball to achieve real social impact in our communities. Since its founding in 2012, the One Team programme has reached already directly and indirectly 12,000 participants through its various team projects.