Marilisa Zanini and Michele Samaden, One Team coaches from AX Armani Exchange Milan, have shared their recent experiences working with Euroleague Basketball's social responsibility campaign.
The Italian club has collaborated with Cooperativa Sociale Fabula Onlus, an organization that offers basketball courses for children and young people with autism in collaboration with Ambulatorio Polispecialistico Domino. The program focuses on social inclusion, integration and promoting equal opportunities for all.
This is Marilisa and Michele's story.
"We do not give up in the face of defeats. Rather, we treasure them and in this we find the enthusiasm and strength to improve and continue the work. From here begins the journey of the collaboration between our club and Fabula Onlus, a journey that is so unique but so full of emotions.
"Our 'champions' are youngsters affected by autism. Today in Italy autism is in danger of becoming a national emergency. Cases are increasing and the unofficial estimates speak of one child for every 150 – a total of more than 500,000 people, with many families in serious difficulty due to a lack of an adequate response at all levels.
"The Fabula Onlus social cooperative was born in 2008 from the long experience of professional educators, teachers, sports educators, pedagogists and psychologists. Fabula deals with education, autism and physical and mental disabilities, and its services are designed to act in all contexts from clinical aspects to school and home, from holidays to leisure.
"This year we collaborated with the children's neuropsychiatry department of the San Paolo hospital in Milan, the Domino multi-specialist outpatient clinic and Professor Luigi Croce to organize a basketball course aimed at children on the autistic spectrum. The course was aimed at children aged 6 to 10 (Minipallafabulosa) and 11 to 18 (Pallafabulosa).
"For each participant, a sporting path has been developed as part of a wider life project. The core of the project is a union between the sporting and psycho-pedagogical aspects, focused on structured education and visual strategies.
"Autistic people experience difficulties in communication and understanding, thus developing limited social relationships that are expressed in bizarre ways lacking social integration. Often the person is also affected by mental retardation and other pathologies, and needs overall care which aims to ensure the best possible quality of life. And it is to these specific and unique needs and characteristics that Fabula, through its sports activities, wants to answer and support.
"As Olimpia Milano coaches with the One Team project, we have tested ourselves, trying to understand and appreciate a new and different world. Our role is that coaches and sports educators, and relating to the world of autism has enriched us with stories and experiences.
"We have seen new and stimulating realities in the construction of new interpersonal relationships, breaking down walls against situations that seemed to us could bring discomfort. When we analyzed the hypotheses, we only thought about how this new experience of living with the kids could be positive.
"The first session was planned as if to tiptoe into an already formed class. Our desire was aimed at trying to leave something with the children, even just by joining them and attempting to get in touch with them and their world. The aim was to convince the boys they can play beautifully, each in their own way. That hour turned into a moment of true joy, happiness and tranquillity.
"The reference figures for the children are absolutely fundamental, such as their instructor Emiliano, who has guided them for years and established mutual knowledge and trust, organizing them according to a precise routine that the kids have learned to respect and follow, depending on their skills.
"Their smile is the thing that most impressed us. Some guys face the situation in their own way. Some are in love with the madness of that ball that gives beautiful moments. Some run quickly around the court without ever getting tired. Some are shy and face a dribble or a pass with fear. We realized, as coaches, that it does not matter how technically good you are as a coach but how much you can empathize with them in an attempt to gain their trust. Our expectations were far exceeded. We had moments to fill our hearts, and we left the training sessions with big smiles on our faces, perhaps mixed with a feeling of helplessness in front of everything that we do not understand about their problems.
"The weekly One Team meeting is their moment when they can be at the center of the situation and not on the margins, where they can try to express themselves in an environment created for them. The routine designed for them was created so the kids can memorize the exercises in their own way, and make them realize that they have tried them many times – even if for them it feels it always feels like the first time."
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 meaningful social impact in our communities across Europe and is supported by every club in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague and 7DAYS EuroCup.
Since its founding in 2012, the One Team program has already helped more than 19,000 participants through its various team-focused projects.