Riccardo, a nine-year-old participant in the AX Armani Exchange Milan One Team program, used to fight a lot of battles.
He fought battles in the classroom, in the corridor, in the dressing room. And every battle was followed by the deafening silence of his fear: fear of speaking, fear of not being seen, fear of not being able to communicate except through violence.
Expressing yourself through words can be complex for children, which is why Milan's One Team project champions the importance of sport as an educational tool, as a growth experience, as a way of expressing yourself: say it with a pass, say it with a shot.
When they are on the court, children like Riccardo can jump to the basket without feeling their fear. The team can become a trusted circle in which the coaches welcome you, their whistles mark parameters of time, and the court provides barriers of space.
Through basketball, Riccardo discovered that rules don't have to be his enemy. Rules can be trusted, allowing Riccardo and his teammates to discover together the beauty of being a team, and hearing the happy echo of your name when the ball enters the basket.
Through his involvement with One Team, Riccardo has seen his basketball heroes up close. He has also seen himself up close and discovered that his sometimes misunderstood physicality can actually be a talent, and that "the boy who did not do well in class" can be really good at passing the ball.
Above all, Riccardo learned the value of sharing. He saw that in basketball, together you are stronger, and even your own fury can be contained and controlled if there is a supportive group around you.
When he was given the opportunity to participate in One Team, he slowly grasped its essence and the benefits it could give him. At first, he was detached, with little confidence in the two coaches, Michele and Marilisa, who entered the gym and imposed their rules, their game, removing the possibility of doing what he normally did at home or school with no control.
Soon, though, he became a child who followed a growth path – both in basketball and in character, learning to know and understand himself first, and then how to open up to others, trusting those two coaches who came to him offering a basketball, and an hour of fun and happiness. He was able to transform an angry face into a smiling and happy face.
In time, Riccardo was able to offer his hand to help his teammates, and establish friendly relationships with them – the kind of relationship that often cannot be created in the classroom. Basketball united the children, creating the beginning of a fundamental and deep bond.
It is difficult to provoke change in a growing child, but the fire of passion for a sport illuminates faces and has the power to transform. This is exactly what happened to Riccardo, who today is able to fight on the court, to make a basket, to accept the hand of a companion, and then return to his life with his weapons laid down.
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.