Last year the Special Hockey + initiative based in Catalonia, Spain, won the prestigious Infanta Sofia award for its work with people with learning difficulties. Here, we take a look at the project and how it has progressed since it was first introduced in September 2007 after an amalgamation between the Catalan Hockey Federation, Jeroni de Moragas – a school in Catalonia – and the hockey section of FC Barcelona. The project also had the backing of Barcelona City Council.
The aim of Special Hockey +, as explained by one of its founders Jordi Lobo, has always been about equality of opportunity. It is the creation of opportunities for people with learning difficulties to learn and play competitive hockey.
The first coaching sessions were held at the Jeroni de Moragas school and, just two months later, a second school took up the activity. As Lobo says: “On 30 November 2007, we held our first match, a spectacular experience.”
Explaining the rationale behind the project, Lobo says: “We called it Special Hockey +; by the ‘plus’ we give hockey opportunities to our players and, above all, by the plus we mean we are contributing to the lives of people with disabilities through hockey.”
From its beginnings in 2007, Special Hockey + has grown to a point where 23 teams from six clubs within the Catalan Hockey Federation are now involved in the project. These clubs are: FC Barcelona, FC Junior, Egara HC, Athletico de Terassa, RC de Polo, Iluro HC and Catalonia Hockey Club.
In all, about 300 players of all ages regularly enjoy hockey coaching and matches thanks to the initiative.
Now, Special Hockey + is looking to expand to other regions in Spain. Introductory sessions have taken place in Valencia, Madrid, Bilbao, Cadiz and Granda.
Within the clubs in these cities, hockey coaching sessions are now taking place and the next steps will be organising competitions between club sides. In fact, this summer, the Josaleta club from Bilbao will be taking part in the Memorial Gabriel Arias tournament in Catalonia.
The hockey scene for people with learning disabilities in Catalonia has continued to push for ever more opportunities for the players. Since 2007, all six participating clubs have regularly held tournaments, while in 2013 a ‘little league’ was set up between teams from FC Barcelona and RC de Polo.
Not content with domestic competition, the founders decided to give their players access to international tournaments. And so, in 2010, a group of players travelled to Holland to take part in G-Hockey (adapted hockey) at a tournament in Amsterdam.
The next year the players went to Germany to participate in the European Championships for Special Hockey, held in Monchengladbach. Teams from Special Hockey + have participated in international competition ever since.
Speaking at an international summit of the sporting charity, The Laureus Foundation, Lobo spoke of his feelings on taking players to international events: “Imagine 150 participants from 34 countries on five continents sharing life experiences, using sport as a way of offering opportunities to people who are often socially excluded?"
“It was an exceptional experience. I had the opportunity to meet people with attitudes and values that we have always tried to promote at the club. It gives great satisfaction to see how Special Hockey + is enabling sporting chances for people with learning difficulties.”
In an article outlining the values of Special Hockey +, it is stated that: “Athletes with learning difficulties have the right to share in all aspects of sporting life, the social life, competitively, it is the right to equal opportunity. It is exciting to see everyone sharing across the hockey clubs, in the fields, the locker rooms, in the bar.”
Special Hockey + has already engaged hundreds of people across Spain and considering its success and the passion of the people behind the initiative, it will touch the lives of many more.
For more information about Special Hockey +, visit the Real Federacion Espanola de Hockey (national governing body for hockey in Spain) by clicking here.