Spain’s capital Madrid is a city that lives and breathes sport. It is omnipresent in the streets, homes, tapas bars and even schools. But it is a very special primary school in Madrid’s north-east in which sport is helping improve the lives of young people.
Ignacio Martin looks forward each morning to work at the Colegio Público de Educación Especial Princesa Sofía, where he has been working at the Laureus-supported ‘Young Athletes’ project for eight months. The programme was developed in partnership with Special Olympics Spain and Laureus in 2008 and focuses on instilling hope and developing young people with disabilities.
“When I stared working with Special Olympics, I saw it was a job in which the young people needed a lot of help assistance from people to make their lives easier amid the difficulties they face on a daily basis,” says Ignacio or “Nacho” as he is known to his friends.
After the morning sessions in the classrooms, the 26-year-old leads the activities in the school gym with the youngsters, many of whom have varying levels of disability. Using balls, cones and hoops, kids between the age of two and seven years of age use sport as a tool to improve their physical and sensory capacities, as well as their social integration. And the results are incredible.
“Apart from seeing constant progress in their development, sport and physical activity is something that really helps their well-being. It is amazing.” added Nacho.
“Sport really is perfect for youngsters with disabilities”
As many of the staff will tell you, the project is not just making an impact on the kids. Nacho is the first to admit the positive effect it has had on him.
“It has really inspired me to work with the kids. Being with them is very gratifying and motivates me to keep growing as a person. To see a smile on their faces, that is what makes this job so worth it.”
The wonderful work being done at the Colegio Público de Educación Especial Princesa Sofía has caught the eye of many sporting legends including football superstars Carles Puyol, Luis Figo and Juan Mata. All three men have visited the school in their roles as Laureus Academy Members and Ambassadors and have seen first-hand how sport is making a real difference.
“Sport has given me so much throughout my life and being here with the kids from ‘Young Athletes’ really shows the power sport can have to give young people hope” reflected Laureus Academy Member Puyol who won three Champions League trophies with Barcelona and achieved European Championship and World Cup glory with Spain.
“For us it is a different day in the best sense because we are able to share nice moments with all these kids” added Laureus Academy Member Luis Figo, former Real Madrid and Barcelona star.
Laureus Ambassador Juan Mata, who currently plays for Manchester United, also met many of the youngsters and was proud to take part in all the sporting activities. “I’m delighted to have the opportunity to hang out with these little great fighters. The work that Laureus Sport for Good carries out worldwide is amazing and the number of young children’s lives they help improve is inspirational.”
It really is a special moment when sporting icons volunteer their time to visit and experience the work being done in these projects. Many of the kids and project leaders will remember these days forever. “I have such great memories from Juan Mata’s visit to the school, as I am a big football fan. I thought he was a fantastic person and was very engaged and participated in all our activities with the kids. It was a wonderful morning,” said Nacho. “I think it is so great that big sport stars visit us, it is really incredible for the young people who have so many day-to-day issues.”
“The kids end up having so much fun and are inspired by their idols.”
The ‘Young Athletes’ project in Madrid is just one of the inspirational projects from around the world that use sport as a tool for social change. Anyone who has been to them, including Carles , Luis and Juan, will tell you that change is happening in these projects and sport is changing lives.
The Colegio Público de Educación Especial Princesa Sofía is a magical place where kids whose daily life is not always easy find harmony and joy in sport. All this is made possible on the ground by project leaders like Nacho, who dedicates his time for the development of the young people. That is something truly special.