Zenit St Petersburg has started its new season with One Team, Euroleague Basketball's social responsibility program, by working with a group of teenagers who have experienced tough times.
The Russian club is using the power of basketball to restore self-esteem and a sense of purpose to a group of teens who got themselves into trouble with the law. The program shows that even if they have a reputation as "problem children" they can make a positive change to their lives if they are given a chance.
The group of 14- to 17-year-olds are attending weekly training sessions where they learn how to play basketball but also – more importantly – take part in special activities which will help them understand the world better.
The sessions are led by Zenit coaches and psychologist Anastasia Doronina, who explained: "I'm like a connecting link between coaches and players. I show the coaches which problems our children are facing and how to work with them, because everyone has his own blocks to deal with. And everyone has hidden potential to develop."
Halit Vagapov, Zenit's One Team coach, said: "It is very interesting to work with such teens. Each of them has a unique story. A lot of them came here from hard families or with difficult problems. We want to help them not to be lost in life. We will give them the best that we have to make them stronger. Life is hard, and love and attention, which we give here, will be useful in their lives. Basketball will help them and also us to become kinder and more tolerant toward each other. Basketball forms and tempers character. And that is exactly what these boys need."
Zenit's One Team Ambassadors – Igor Volkhin and Andrey Zubkov – are not allowed to join sessions in person, but they recorded a motivational speech for the group and said: "Welcome to our team! During the next few months, you will be able to take part in training sessions. But basketball is only a start of your way. From now, you are part of our family. Be decent to be part of a great club! We will counsel and guide you during the project. Together we can go through it and become stronger. Now you received a great chance to change your life. Use it!"
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 22,000 participants through its various team-focused projects.