Why Team United is so special for soccer players with disabilities

Why Team United is so special for soccer players with disabilities

He could talk about the final in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium in June 1989, where he lifted the DFB Cup as a 19-year-old young player from Borussia Dortmund. From his time as a contract amateur at Eintracht Frankfurt. But when asked about anecdotes from his life with football, Bruno Pasqualotto prefers to talk about Team United. “What I’m doing here is the best thing I’ve experienced in 50 years on the ball,” he says.

A Friday evening in October. Bruno Pasqualotto, 54, stands on the sidelines of the artificial turf pitch in Friedrichsdorf-Köppern. There are around 30 soccer players on the field, most of them teenagers and young adults. They wear striped socks or orange training bibs. Some come from Offenbach, Mainz, the Main-Kinzig district. And almost everyone has a handicap: for example Down syndrome, autism, a learning disability, short stature.

In Team United they have found a group in which they are welcome. Anyone can play here, regardless of whether they have a disability or not. Wins and losses are unimportant. It’s all about having fun with football. And about creating an offer for people with disabilities that they rarely find.

“I stood there and had goosebumps”

Team United had its origins in 2010. Pasqualotto was the D-youth coach at Teutonia Köppern at the time. Before a training session, a boy comes up to him and asks if he can train with him. The boy has a developmental delay and a slight learning disability, which is why he was sent away from other clubs.

Pasqualotto lets him play along. He asks his protégés to pay attention to the new guy. “I stood there and had goosebumps,” he remembers. “The boys took him in and explained things to him.” The idea of ​​founding an inclusive football team matures in Pasqualotto. He contacts Lebenshilfe in Bad Homburg and special schools in Oberursel and distributes flyers.

The first training session will take place in August 2013 with five players. The team around coach Pasqualotto and team manager Thorsten Picha is growing quickly. The United team plays private games and occasionally takes part in the Hessen-ID-Liga, where players with intellectual disabilities compete. The team now has 82 members. Five coaches take care of the training.

“Sparkling in the eyes”

The team recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. At an anniversary event, the nine players who have been there from the beginning were honored. One of them is Tobias Wentzell, the team captain. The 24-year-old is of short stature; he was born without knees and thighs.

As a teenager, Wentzell tried playing for regular teams. But he has no chance in running duels. It’s different with Team United: Although the teammates here are quicker, “I’m usually a little quicker in my head,” he explains. “I can keep up here.”

The special thing about his team: Even after defeats, everyone is quickly in a good mood again. André dos Santos, who has also been part of the team since 2013, also talks about this. “Team United is grabbing you. People have a hard enough time in life, but in training they have a sparkle in their eyes,” says the 23-year-old, who has a slight reading disability, about his teammates.

When Bruno Pasqualotto started in 2013, he asked himself how best to approach people with disabilities. He remembers a scene from the early days when the short Tobias Wentzell plays a pass to a teammate with cerebral palsy and shouts: “Just run!” The teammate’s answer: “But I’m disabled!” They both laugh. Pasqualotto notes: “You can stay exactly as you are.” The most important thing is a large amount of empathy for people. Football training at Team United hardly differs from that of a regular team.

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Team United has received several awards for its inclusion work, including the Future Prize for Hessian Sports and a silver sports star. For Pasqualotto, who works as a national trainer for selection teams in the ID area at the Hessian Disabled and Rehabilitation Sports Association, this is a motivation to keep going. “After ten years, Friday evening is still my highlight. The time on the pitch makes me really happy – whatever happened during the week.”

Simone and Dirk Krausgrill also want the inclusive team to continue. Her son Laurin is 22 years old and is also one of the team’s first players. Laurin has an intellectual disability and developmental delay. Before Team United was formed, his parents tried to enroll him in a swimming or gymnastics club. It was always said: We can’t take him in, we don’t have the people to do it. “It makes you feel stupid as a parent,” says Simone Krausgrill.

Kicking in Team United helped her son in his development: “He used to be a jack of all trades. Since he’s been here he’s become calmer.” However, the number of sports offerings for young people with disabilities has hardly increased in recent years. Team United, says Dirk Krausgrill, was a stroke of luck.

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