Young with intellectual disability: the experts’ competences

A new sports season also begins for young people with intellectual disabilities. It is good to remember that too few still have access to sports programs. In relation to having them participate in team games there is still a conception that individual sports are preferable to them.

Personally I am not convinced of this idea. Since for 7 years as the Academy of Integrated Football we have been carrying out a project with AS Roma precisely aimed at teaching soccer and we have documented in several scientific papers the positive effects of this project. It seems to me, however, that a gap present in many sports programs for young people with intellectual disabilities is the reduced specific professional competences of those who work with these young people and that they may lack the skills necessary to plan and implement effective programs. Therefore, I want to report what we at the Academy of Integrated Soccer believe should be the profile of the professional involved in these activities.

  1. Specific scientific and professional skills: degree in exercise science, sports psychology, or speech therapy.
  2. Be convinced that sport is a fundamental activity for improving the psychological and social condition of children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities.
  3. Be predisposed to interaction on the field with young people, building on one’s own sports skills and/or experience gained through a sports career or movement studies.
  4. Accepting the frustrations derived from the slow improvements of these young people, always showing belief in the possibilities that they can still improve while respecting their time and problems.
  5. Being enthusiastic and dynamic are two essential psychological characteristics to be accepted by these young people and to convey the conviction that one can learn despite their limitations.
  6. To love sports since the activity in the field is quite demanding and tiring, so certainly those who play sports have more opportunities to fit in this area where the activity is for everyone organized with specific educational units for the young people to follow.
  7. Be patient and tenacious to have the willingness to repeat and then again repeat the teachings as many times as necessary without interacting in a negative, angry or disappointed way with young people, who are more than others sensitive to the emotional changes of their teachers.


Federer-Nadal last match ends with tears

Roger Federer: "Una volta rifiutai di giocare il doppio con Rafael Nadal"

Italy populations projections: fewer residents, more elderly, smaller families

Latest population projections, updated to 2021, confirm the presence of a potential crisis scenario. A decreasing population: from 59.2 million as of January 1, 2021 to 57.9 million in 2030, to 54.2 million in 2050 and to 47.7 million in 2070.

The ratio between individuals of working age (15-64 years) and not (0-14 and 65 years and over) will go from about 3 to 2 in 2021 to about 1 to 1 in 2050.

The demographic crisis of the territories: a population decline is expected in 4 out of 5 municipalities within 10 years, in 9 out of 10 in rural municipalities.

The number of families is expected to grow but with an ever smaller mean number of members. Fewer couples with children, more couples without: by 2041 only 1 in 4 families made up of a couple with children; more than 1 in 5 will be childless.

By 2050 the over-65s will account for 34.9% of the population.

Young people up to 14 years of age, will account for 11.7% by 2050.

There will be an unbalanced ratio of over65s to teens, to the extent of about three to one.

A partial rebalancing in the population structure may only reveal itself in the long term, as the generations born in the baby boom years tend to die out. Based on the median scenario, the 15-64 year olds could return to 54.3% by 2070 while the over-65s decline back to 34.1%. Stable, however, is the youth population at 11.6/.

Tennis, Badosa: +expectations = -game focus

Everything seemed all set for Paula Badosa‘s ultimate rise in the stardom of women’s tennis, but 2022, which was expected to be the year of consecration, has so far been rather disappointing (the last defeat yesterday in Tokyo against 19-year-old Qinwen Zheng of China). This is a paradox when one considers that Badosa at one point this season, precisely after the Stuttgart tournament, became world number two, a position held, however, for only two weeks. How did it get from world number two to Badosa’s now well-known tweet this morning? “I don’t even win at parchìs.” A strong statement for a tennis player who is currently ranked number eight in the world but is going through a complicated phase emotionally. The reference to parchìs is typically Spanish, a board game with dice in which four players compete to achieve a goal, very famous in Spain and with some similarities to the game of the goose. A metaphor that betrays Badosa’s frustration, who in the tweet afterwards thanked everyone for the support, adding that he will keep fighting.”

This news highlights how difficult it always is to achieve results that match the outcome standards an athlete has set for herself. At first glance these would seem to be situations more typical of a teenage age when one does not yet know one’s qualities well, but instead these are the experiences of absolute world-class athletes. In fact, The Abbess is not the only one to experience these crises just remember Osaka or the difficulties of many other top 10s.

A survey I conducted with Robert Nideffer and Jeff Bond (former director of the Australian Institute of Sport) of absolute world level athletes showed that the difference between Olympic medal winners and those who had won more, so-called, serial winners consisted essentially in the latter’s greater ability to stay focused on the task.

This result would indicate that serial winners do not get distracted by their own expectations and those of their environment, think less about the outcome, are less influenced by the external environment and instead show a total focus on performing at their best. Other investigations conducted mainly in athletics have in turn shown that for these athletes the last two hours leading up to the race are crucial in activating this attentional mode.

Is it true that we learn from our experiences? (2)

It is of no use to speak in general terms about experiences; it is essential to understand what the demands of situations are that bring about significant changes in a person’s professional life. It is possible to identify them by distributing experiences into different categories.

Experiences that have a strong personal impact have at their base a struggle against adversity. These experiences force individuals to do something different than what they had been doing up to that point. They also push one to perceive oneself and situations in a way that is always different from the past, requiring one to give one’s best in that situation, which can never be identical to a previous one. It is clear, however, that it is through these adverse situations that the manager or sportsman may choose whether or not to take illegal shortcuts to satisfy their need for success and power.

Experiences with a character of exceptionality. For this reason, even an experienced person may say, “Such a situation I have never faced before.” Shooting a penalty kick at the World Cup final is a unique experience, and it is not enough to be good and to have handled this kind of stress well in the past, now you are watched by more than a billion people, you are a champion but it is not enough to score a goal. It was an experience that had never even happened to Roberto Baggio before he missed it in the final with Brazil. The most significant experiences have the trait of uniqueness not so much in relation to the content of the activity (e.g., the penalty kick is an action that belongs to the professional baggage of every soccer player) but in relation to the value they take on in a given circumstance (shooting it during the World Cup final).

Experiences that require the development of new skills to cope with new situations. Creativity and innovation are pathways increasingly practiced by leaders who must consciously serve as innovative role models to their staff. They represent real learning situations. Knowing how to grasp one’s moments of uncertainty and doubt is a good criterion for establishing that one does not know how to reason only by established practices but that a part of oneself is available in regard to the new.

Experience and awareness of one’s own sense of belonging. This last category is particularly important because it relates the situations to be faced to the experience of personal belonging. An individual is not ascribable to a single activity or group but can be defined, without thereby feeling any contradiction, through the facet of his activities as a manager and as a member of different groups. He can be a cook, a music lover, a runner, a lover of vacations taken in nature, a father, a husband, an Italian, a college graduate, a resident of a metropolis, and much more. Each of these aspects participates in forming the identity in which one recognizes oneself, and all of them together determine how one acts. Staying aware of this plurality of affiliations can be a first step toward curbing any illegal behavior. A manager or an athlete might think based on the idea that the end justifies the means that it does not matter in what way one achieves success. Well thinking that one is also a parent or citizen with responsibilities to others may slow down the establishment of this attitude.

Is it true that we learn from our experiences? (1)

Every person has heard his or her teachers argue thousands of times that one learns to make the right choices through experience, but this statement is far too general; it may be analogous to stating that one grows because one is nourished or that one is alive because one breathes or, more cynically, one puts it in the bill that one who does not learn to swim drowns and onward another.

Knowing that we live immersed in our daily experience, in the experience of others, and in an ever-changing environment is certainly not much more helpful. Every moment of a person’s life is part of the experiences he or she is having small or large, one has experiences from the moment of birth, for example, one learned to walk because as a child one stubbornly wanted to gain autonomy, and to do this one needs to move around. Therefore, all children make regular and continuous efforts to reach a standing position and move expeditiously. But this effort toward change does not end at an early age; it continues at every age.

A company executive told me that his problems began when he came to lead a group; before he had only to think about himself and selling, and this he had learned to do well, until he became the best. At that point he was leading a team that under his leadership should have multiplied results, instead initially it was a disaster because he terrorized his collaborators by telling them they were good-for-nothings. Having reached this point he was forced to change and learn how to manage the team or else his business would fail.

This story, which is quite common with many others that occur daily everywhere, highlights how it is of no use to speak in general terms about experiences; it is essential to understand what the demands of situations are that bring about significant changes in a person’s professional life.

Oratory closes for too many swear words

Broken nets, garbage abandoned inside but above all profanity and swearing spoiled the atmosphere of the oratory. For this reason Don Franz Vicentini, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Cocciano, one of Frascati’s (Roma) most populous neighborhoods, closed the oratory. Parents liked the decision; I wonder if it was only other people’s children who manifested these behaviors.

What are the role models for these young people? The soccer players who constantly complain to referees or the coaches who use their role to express themselves violently? Or the bully friends?

Young people are responsible for their actions. Who, however, are their teachers? Who provides them with the standard behaviors to act ethically?

Coaches violent because of their wounded narcissism

I have long been convinced of the narcissistic evolution of the personality of soccer coaches. There are no studies on these aspects in the world of soccer, however, it seems to me that the violent and aggressive outbursts of coaches already in these first two months of the championship, confirm this idea.

Today we get angry immediately, but above all this is associated with unacceptable behaviors made of shouting on the field at someone, gestures and chairs taken as if they were a club. These are manifestations of human frailty. They are experienced by coaches as an expression of their legitimate right to protest, true, but the form expresses an injury suffered.

Moreover, there is no negative effect brought about by these behaviors. They may be ejected and receive disqualification days, but they are not useful deterrents to abandon this way of being. The only way to motivate them to change would be solely social disapproval but this is not there in soccer. Being condemned and taken back by one’s social sporting environment would represent an opportunity for change, in its absence they will continue as now.

“We should not deny our ambitions, our desire to dominate, our desire to shine and our aspiration to merge with omnipotent figures, but instead we should learn to recognize the legitimacy of these narcissistic forces [...]. We will then be able [...] to transform our archaic grandiosity and exhibitionism into realistic self-esteem and pleasure with ourselves [...] adaptive and joyful capacity to be enthusiastic and to admire the great upon whose life, deeds and personality we can afford to model ourselves” (Kohut, 1982).

Kohut reminds us that the desire to dominate is legitimate but must be geared toward building realistic self-esteem. It seems to me, however, that it is precisely this adaptive work that is lacking in coaches, who thus become dominated by their grandiose thoughts, which if unacknowledged trigger these moments of irrationality in them.

Inter e Juve crisis

A team’s crisis occurs when problems with play and a reduced collective cohesion between players and coach weld together. This resulted in yet another bad performance by Juventus against Monza and Inter’s third defeat in the league.

If the game is negatively influenced by injuries, the inclusion of new signings, the tarnished state of form of some starters the team cannot produce the game it would like to. In these situations what must sustain the team is cohesion, unity of purpose, and collective work. In practice, players must interact on the field for the purpose of showing unity and confidence in their team skills even if they are not optimal at that stage. Napoleon was accustomed to say that he also won his battles with the dreams of his soldiers, and this phrase is an effective metaphor for what should be meant by collective effectiveness.

This mentality must be fostered by the behaviors and statements of the coach, who aware of the limitations of the game, must act to arouse the psychological strength of the players as a team. As Al Pacino says so well in the movie “Every Damn Sunday” in the role of the coach of a team in crisis, “So … either we rise up now, as a collective, or we will be annihilated individually.”

My impression is that Allegri and Inzaghi think too much about the schemes, the game and less about making individuals and the team proactive. The motivation to help each other, to get out of difficult situations and to want to move forward together, comes before the game. One cannot hide behind the thought that because players are very well-paid professionals they should always express themselves to the fullest or know how to behave in moments of nervousness or depression. One cannot say as Allegri said in relation to the Champions route that the decisive game would be the home match with Benfica, it means throwing sand in the delicate gears of a team. Or to remain puzzled, as Inzaghi said, after the Udinese game. They seem to have lost awareness of the psychological condition of the team and individuals. It is not the game forms per se that make a team great but how these are played. As with an actor, it is not enough to have learned the part by heart; his success will depend on how he plays his role. Performing implies a strong psychological involvement. This is what coaches need to work on, and perhaps they might even realize that working with a sports psychologist might help them.

Words reveal coach’s idea of athlete

Too often coaches have only a biomechanical conception of the athlete and think they can teleguide them.

It is common to hear phrases like:

  • Athletes must be motivated.
  • Training must go to improving athletes’ skills
  • It’s clear that this one goes down immediately
  • Stimulating them makes them mentally engaged
  • When I go to have my athlete visualized

They reveal:

  • Coach conception as some kind of magician who changes people.
  • Passive conception of athletes changing in reaction to stimulus (the coach’s words) and not as they are active agents of their own improvement.
  • Conception that one must react and the coach is the trainer of people, who without such guidance cannot improve.