Motor and psychosocial development in children with intellectual disabilities through soccer


Rivista di Psicologia e Scienze del Movimento e dello Sport

n.2/3, 2016, 63 pagine

Roma: Edizioni Luigi Pozzi


Lo sviluppo motorio e psicosociale in bambini con disabilità intellettive attraverso il calcio

Motor and psychosocial development in children with intellectual disabilities through soccer


Alberto Cei*’, Paolo Franceschi^, Michele Rosci^, Daniela Sepio’ e Bruno Ruscello°

*Università San Raffaele, Roma e ASD Calcio Integrato

^AS Roma Calcio

‘ASD Calcio Integrato

°Università di Tor Vergata, Roma


Parole chiave: bambini, autismo, calcio, apprendimento, empowerment 

Key words: children, autism, soccer, learning, empowerment




Calcio Insieme (Soccer Together) is a project promoted by Roma Cares Foundation, non-profit organization linked to the broader context of Social Responsibility and Sustainability of AS ROMA and A.S.D. Accademia di Calcio Integrato, whose objective is the development of education and culture integrated to the values of sport through the soccer.

Soccer is the sport most loved and practiced by girls and boys around the world, but for young people with developmental difficulties are rare, if not absent, the opportunities allowing them to live this sport as an educational and playful experience. Therefore, this applied research project, spread over three years, is aimed at children (6-12 years) with intellectual disabilities and with particular reference to those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Soccer Together project wants to promote the physical activity and soccer teaching for these children, in order to improve the quality of their lives through a continuous sport practice over time. Furthermore, this project wants also to develop a methodology model of teaching, tailored for these children, through this applied research.

Soccer Together began in September 2015 with the collaboration of some schools of Roma. They promoted among families of children with intellectual disabilities the knowledge of this initiative. They organized information meetings lead by the staff of Soccer Together to start building a community whose school, family, sport organization and staff could feel part of a common project at its center there are the children with intellectual disabilities and especially those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Since the beginning the project has had as main focus the empowerment of each child through the soccer, as recommended by the International Paralympic Committee.

To better understand the different steps of the experiment carried out by the technical-scientific staff of Soccer Together at the Giulio Onesti Center, in Roma, it’s important to acknowledge what are the autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and what are the limits and the motor/psychological potential of children with ASD; the report describes in detail the main features and the research results.

This report begins with an overview of autism spectrum disorders and what are the limits and the motor potential of these children. It emerges that, up to now, the experiences carried out in this area included only individual sports and that no investigation has been conducted to test how the group sports and soccer specifically could be a means of improving the motor/sports skills and the psychological and interpersonal skills. In the section devoted to the method are described the diagnoses of 30 children (27 boys and 3 girls). They  have participated in the project by attending at the training program for an hour twice a week for 5 months. They were divided into two sub-groups (Green and Red) as a function of their motor skills and psycho-relational competences. All children were subjected to the initial and final motor assessment. Similarly it proceeded with the psychological and interpersonal evaluation carried out at the beginning and at the end of the program. This was done through interviews with parents and their school teachers and an assessment carried out on the field for the duration of the period of activities carried out by the football coaches and the sport psychologists. In addition, before the start of the program, the whole staff,  including sport psychologists, youth football instructors, one speech therapist, one sport physician and one coordinator of the relations with families and schools have participated in a specific training, theoretical and practical, learning to be sensitive and to work with young individuals with developmental disorders. The results showed that in relation to motor skills there are significant differences from the initial assessment in relation to 6 tests out of 10. The children improved in tests regarding: walking between the cones, running between the cones, roll on the mat, high jump (3 obstacles 20 / 30cm), grab (5 launches from 1 to 5 meters away from the instructor) and stay balanced on jellyfish.

In relation to run with the ball (to drive the ball into a space 15m long and 4m wide) were detected two results. The first is that, even at the end of the program, 39.3% of children did not show any improvement. The second is of opposite sign and shows that 28.6% is placed in an intermediate skill level. They drive the ball, move frequently left and right even if out of the lane. In addition, 10.7% shows a medium-high skill level, driving the ball without leaving the lane. These data show there is a significant difference from the point of view of the motor competences among the children, while for some the training it’s characterized more as motor activity oriented to the acquisition of basic motor patterns, for others it’s oriented to  teach the soccer fundamentals.

The questionnaire administered at the end of the program to the parents of the children examined the following skills: cooperation, participation in the games, understanding the others and be understood, communicate with each other, socialize, approach the new situations/people and reduction of behavioral problems. For each of these skills, the parents have expressed a final assessment, it showed that they believe their children are improved significantly. It’s also interesting to note that the same questionnaire was administered to school support teachers of children and the resulting data are similar to those experienced by parents. Assessments made on the field by sport psychologists and coaches have shown that most of young people have improved, even if  they achieved very different skill levels, depending on the difficulty level initially expressed. For the future, there are clearly detectable paths of physical activity and sports differentiating the two children groups (Red and Green).

In summary, these data confirm the findings of the research review conducted on people with autism spectrum disorder (Sowa e Meulenbroek, 2012). That is to say, that the motor/sport skills increase with specific program of motor/sports learning. Our study adds that the organization of training sessions in group interventions and individual interventions promote the development of social skills, as in part it has been showed by Walker, Barry and Bader (2010). This pilot study has also responded to the request to organize “a naturalistic intervention based on group sports like soccer” (Sowa and Meulenbroek, 2012; p.56) and, till now it was never been documented. In addition, as already showed (Luiselli 2014), the behavioral problems were reduced, decreasing the stereotyped movements and the self-stimulation behaviors.

Finally, it should be mentioned those results achieved which are not identifiable in scientific terms but that at the same time are important for a project with the aim to reduce the limits of the children with ASD and widen their skills at 360 degrees. The most significant are the following: the first football games played between them and the coaches and two games 4vs4 with players of Roma Academy; the identification process with AS Roma has increased the children socialization and stimulated their pride being a part of Roma team; live this experience with professionals totally dedicated to them and willing to respect the times of socialization and learning while not ceasing to guide them in the activities; for families it has been important to meet each other, sharing these experiences and feeling themselves as an active part of the project.

Adoloscent-athletes are a problem for themselves and adult world

The demon of youth sports is the mistake. Although the coaches tell their young athletes that they learn through the mistakes, it is very rare for a young teenager accept this mental approach, thinking the failure as a learning opportunity. I don’t know if this happens sometimes because of the coaches, other times for parents’ pressure  because the adolescents are not aware of having to commit regardless of the outcomes. The result is that in many sports, especially in those where it is cultivated the perspective of economic wealth the young are destroyed in an attempt to satisfy wrong or exaggerated expectations .Obviously sports federations do nothing to cope with this approach to sport.

How many players have the Plan B befor the match

The players are often assessed by the errors they committed. Less often they are assessed in relation to what they should do to be more effective and even more rarely they have planned before the match an alternative plan, Plan B, in case they are in trouble. This passive approach to the game can be determined by the desire to follow the guidance provided by the coach but this is schematically and not very active way to do it. In any case highlights an attitude of mental laziness, determined by not thinking about alternatives

In these situations the players should be able to activate an alternative way of thinking, which focused on the desire to effectively change those behaviors leading to commit errors. Players with a reduced level of personal awareness and a low self-esteem tend to be the most adversely affected by this attitude of passive acceptance of the tasks received from their coach. They are also individuals with a limiting ability to analyze more information in the same time. The effect on performance is to become impulsive in action, thus acting without thinking. Another type of useless reaction consists to follow the idea of ​​not knowing to be able to deal with these situations, the resulting could determina the tendency to get depressed or absent from the game.

Integrated soccer, autism, AS Roma, Sweden Victoria Princess

Risultati immagini per Roma scuola calcio principessa victoria svezia

World ranking of Sport Science Schools and Departments

ShanghaiRanking’s Global Ranking of Sport Science Schools and Departments has been published few days ago. It is the first attempt to rank a group of institutions & units with the same subject focus. Since the publication of the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) by academic subjects in 2009, ShanghaiRanking has been constantly seeking ways to expand the subjects been covered. In June 2016, ShanghaiRanking produced rankings of universities in 7 engineering subjects in order to provide insights into universities’ academic competences in more subject areas.

The world’s sport industry is undergoing enormous growth. Using China as an example, based on Nielsen’s latest data, China aims to create an $813 billion sport industry by 2025 and Chinese companies and wealthy individuals are encouraged to invest heavily in sports events, teams, facilities, agencies and sponsorships, inside and outside the country. Sport Science schools equip students with knowledge and skills to meet the needs of this fast-growing industry, and also to create scholarly knowledge to support and inspire this industry. ShanghaiRanking choose to start its ShanghaiRanking’s Global Ranking of Sport Science Schools and Departments.

A great amount of work is devoted to identify academic units, such as university, schools, faculties, and departments, which engage significantly in Sport Science research. A total of 110,000 unit addresses were examined and hundreds of websites searched to form the final list of 361 universities or about 400 sport-related units that actively engage in research. The top 300 universities are published in this ranking based on the measurement of publication, citation, citations per publication, top 25% journals publications, and internationally collaborated publications.

European universities dominate this year’s ranking list. There are 144 European institutions on the top 300 list. More than half of these units are from the United Kingdom, Spain and Germany with 45 units, 16 units, and 15 units respectively. Loughborough University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences is the highest ranked unit in Europe and is ranked second in ShanghaiRanking’s Global Ranking of Sport Science Schools and Departments 2016.

103 institutions are from Americas. 64 of these units are from the United States and the country has the strongest presence in ShanghaiRanking’s Global Ranking of Sport Science Schools and Departments 2016 than other countries. Also strongly performed, 25 institutions from Canada and 14 from Brazil are listed in the ranking this year.

Deakin University’s School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences from Australia took the first place in the ranking. 51 institutions are from Asia and Oceania and more than 90% of these institutions are from Australia, China, Japan, and New Zealand. New Zealand universities have outstanding performance as 6 out of 8 public universities from the country are presented in the ranking and AUT University’s School of Sport and Recreation is ranked in the top 30.

Two institutions are from Africa. University of Cape Town’s Division of Exercise Science and Sports Medicine is ranked 48th.

Winning without thinking to win

Many people think that to win you need to compete with the idea of winning. When I explain that instead you have to compete, in any sport, staying focused on what it takes to compete at the best, many think it is wrong. The opposite is true. If you think to win you put too much pressure on yourself, because even if you perform at your best, it is not sure that the opponent does not perform better than you and then get the success. I  recommend to see the video in which Arrigo Sacchi, former Milan and Italian team coach explains brilliantly this same concept.

Risultati immagini per arrigo sacchi motivazione

How to score or miss a penalty

Risultati immagini per totti cucchiaio a van der sar

15 anni fa Totti faceva il cucchiaio a Van der Sar – GUARDA IL VIDEO

Risultati immagini per pelle e zaza


How do you celebrate when your team score?

How do you celebrate when your team score? Hockey fans do it launching teddy bear toss.

Risultati immagini per time for a teddy bear toss

Coaching goal: teach to react immediately to the bad momentum

To teach sport to young people who train several hours every day, it means teaching to face difficulties. Become an expert athlete is to know yourself at the best, and this happens only in situations that force us to be totally focused on the performances to be provided at any given time.

Those who practice a recreational activity have the goal to be immediately satisfied with what they are doing. Running in a park or have a walk in the mountains are made to personal choice and for the immediate pleasure that these activities will result, in any moment they can stop and then strat again when they want.

The athletes live a completely different situation, even if they carry out an activity that has been chosen and which provides satisfaction. The athletes are essentially the explorer of themselves. They must know and reduce their limits and works to reach the summit which will be able to gain through this exploration. They do not know a priori the result and even the point of arrival, assuming there is one. It has, in fact, to run the risk of failing while they work to be able to meet these expectations.

The athletes have developed this attitude towards sport when they know to be able to accept mistakes and negative moments. No one likes to make mistakes but they should know that they part of any performance. In those moments the goal is to provide a constructive response to the mistake. In those moments, the inner work is crucial, leading to park on one side of the mind what has just taken place, to refocus on the present.

Many athletes fail because they did not work enough in this work of re-focusing on the immediate future. In other words, they have not been trained to move from wrong to right to in the shortest possible time. So, training must be organized to develop this ability, otherwise the athletes will think that their limits are the mistakes. It’s not true! The main limit of an athlete is, however, not to show a fast and efficacy reaction to the bad momentum.

Our goal must be to know better ourselves

“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” Sir Edmund Hillary
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