Winter view of the Don Bosco soccer field

Don Bosco

Last Tuesday I called the Don Bosco Scuola di Calcio [see their Facebook page and their sporting web site], located down the hill about 10 min. by foot, to arrange organized soccer for the boys. I had visited the complex during my February reconnaissance, and had been impressed by the quality of the facilities and fields, the friendliness of the personnel, and the proximity of the complex to our apartment.

The umbrella organization is Polisportive Giovanili Salesiane, part of the Salesian Society of Don Bosco. This organization was established by a 19th-century priest from northern Italy named Giovanni Bosco, who worked to establish schools and positive-reinforcement educational methods for poor and disadvantaged boys — those who did not have access to formal schooling. His efforts and organization expanded in Italy and Europe and eventually developed into missionary efforts overseas.

This post talks about the Don Bosco School, and also the general process by which one registers their child for youth soccer in Italy (mostly boys; soccer for girls is growing, but is nowhere near as widespread as in the U.S.)

FIrst, one needs to supply documentation for a player card. In the U.S., that means a copy of the child’s birth certificate, even for a foreign-born player. In Italy, the process is far more involved. The FIGC, the Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio, is the governing body for the sport here, though actual direction seems to be in the hands of its regional organizations; in Umbria, that means the Lega Nazionale Dilettanti – Umbria. There seem to be 15 different types of ‘tesseramento’, that is, ways of ‘en-carding’ a player to play competitive, non-professional (‘dilettante’ means ‘amateur’) games in the Italian youth system. For a non-EU child who has not played in Italy before, one needs the following (here is the list [PDF], which I summarize in English):

  1. A formal request for the player card (tesseramento); as of Fall 2013, this will be done strictly online.
  2. A signed declaration of whether the player has previously been registered with another club overseas. It can be handwritten, and is simply informational with regard to whether/where your child played before Italy.
  3. Certificate of the child’s registration in a school in Italy.
  4. Photocopy of the child’s Birth Certificate.
  5. Photocopy of the child’s Passport or other equivalent identity document.
  6. Photocopies of the parents’ Passports or other equivalent identity documents.
  7. A current Certificate of Residency and a Certificate of the State of the Family, issued by the Commune where the player lives.
  8. Photocopy of the Permesso di Soggiorno of the player and/or parents.
  9. Passport-sized photo.
  10. Medical Certificate stating the player is fit to play
  11. Codice Fiscale for each of the parents and each youth player (this number is necessary for almost anything you do in Italy). Make sure each codice is calculated correctly, using names exactly as they appear on passports! Find out more about the Codice Fiscale here.

I’ve started the process, and can’t claim to understand it completely yet, but the trickiest part seems to involve the items in no. 7. One can’t apply to get a Certificate of Residency or a Certificate of the State of the Family before one has received one’s Permesso di Soggiorno (kids under 14 years old appear on their parents’ PdS). Once again, the Permesso is the magic document. But even then, to get the two Certificates from the Commune, we need ‘dati catastali’, which is official information about our apartment, such as the rental agreement, layout, proof that city utilities are being paid, etc. I have no idea how all that is going to work, but I’ll post updates as I find out. Suffice it to say, I can’t begrudge the player-card system for youth soccer in Indiana! It may be several months before our boys can play in a competitive game, but at least they can practice with their teams in the meanwhile.


Practice at Don Bosco

So Simon’s first practice was this Tuesday, and he’ll practice every day through the end of next week as the coach tries to determine which squad he’ll play on (A, B or C), since there are 40 or so players of his age group (‘giovanissimi’). They go strictly by birth year here, and a player can ‘play up’ one year, but no more than that.

After warm-ups and stretching, the coaches divided the boys into three stations, each overseen by a coach:

  • A strength and conditioning station with some 8 different exercises through which the boys rotated.
  • A passing-and-movement exercise that focused on quick movement of the ball by four players around a square with two defenders inside the square trying to cut off angles or intercept the ball, paired with a smaller square passing drill where one side is left open and one defender occupies the center. In both drills, close control of the ball, accurate passing, quick play, and movement off the ball to offer better angles to a teammate with the ball were emphasized. Defenders were asked to put pressure on the ball and anticipate passes.
  • A small-sided possession game with neutral colors (who combine with whichever of the two other colored sides has the ball), so defenders are always outnumbered 3 to 6 and have to work hard and aggressively to pressure the ball and force turnovers.

Coaches were frank and attentive; they constantly stressed quicker play (‘piu veloce!’), asked players to be fastidio on defense (‘play with the dagger between the teeth’), and tidy with the ball when in control. These are all excellent fundamentals, and Simon said that the practices were like the Olympic Development training he had in Indiana the last few years. So we are very encouraged by the club, and especially glad that in the rankings for disciplinary records (that is, the ‘cleanest’-playing teams), Don Bosco consistently ranked at the top last year in the Perugia area.

The next practice is in 20 minutes. Off we go!

UPDATE 1 (Aug. 28): levels of youth soccer
Subsequent practices have been great. At one point, a coach stopped all of the practices going on (there were four or five of them) and said: “Francesco ha segnato un gol con il suo piede sinestro!” (“Francesco has scored with his left foot!”) Everyone cheered and applauded, and the coach added, “Tutto è possible!” (“Anything is possible!”). Simultaneously, this was an expression of praise for a player whom everyone knew had been having trouble with his left foot, a reminder to all the players that they have to practice with their weaker foot, a moment of club solidarity, and it was funny.  The tone was positive, not negative; it was great coaching.

If you want to know more about terms used in Italian soccer, this illustrated guide from Beyond the Pitch is worth a read.

Finally, I found a useful  explanation of the age categories for Italian youth soccer: “calcio categorie giovanili.” To summarize in English, with birth-years keyed to the year 2013. Rules for 2012-13 tournaments from the FIGC are here (PDF). All categories use goalkeepers.

  • primi calci o piccoli amici (“first kicks” or “little friends”) [U6-8]: kids whose birth years are 2008, 2007, and 2006, playing 5v5 on a 35 x 25 m. field with 3 x 1.8 or 4 x 1.8 meter goals. This is Micah’s group.
  • pulcini (“chicks”) [U9-11]: kids whose birth years are 2005, 2004 and 2003, from 5v5 to 7v7 also on a small field with 4 x 1.8 meter goals.
  • esordienti (“newcomers”) [U12-13]: kids whose birth years are 2002 and 2001. Players are divided by gender at this point. They play 7v7, 9v9, or 11v11, on a smaller-sized pitch and 5.5 x 1.8 meter goals. Jakob will play at this level.
  • giovanissimi (“most youthful”) [U14-15]: kids born in 2000 and 1999. 11v11 with full-sized field and goals. This is the first level of agonistica, or truly competitive soccer, where they keep track of scores and standings. Competitive squads may play in provincial, regional, or national competitions. Simon will play with this group, for which Don Bosco has several squads at different levels.
  • allievi (“pupils”) [U16-17]: those born in 1998 and 1997. Like the giovanissimi, they play in provincial, regional, or national competitions. This is as far as Don Bosco goes.
  • juniores (“juniors”) [U18-19]: those born in 1996 and 1995.

Schools are not the basis for youth sports in Italy (as they are in the U.S.), so club organizations play a critical role in youth social and athletic development.

UPDATE 2 (26 Sept): still trying to get player passes…
So we are getting close to our permesso di soggiorno; they tell us all our documents are in order. But now the documents have to be sent to the Questura HQ in Rome, whence they will issue the magic plastic cards that will sanctify our stay in Italy for this year. That process in Rome will take a month, apparently. As soon as we have them in-hand, we have to make an appointment with the Comune di Perugia (by calling 075 075 075), and about a week later we will have the opportunity to apply for the Certificate of Residency and a Certificate of the State of the Family, which (I am told) will take two months! This additional 3-month delay will put us up against a Dec. 31 deadline, past which foreign players cannot play at all if they are not registered by then. So on the advice of Don Bosco, I’ve written an appeal to the Questura to expedite the process in case it helps us meet the deadline and allows the boys to play.

UPDATE 3 (25 Oct): the medical certificate.





On Oct. 2 Giancarlo from Don Bosco generously drove us out to a medical office where the boys could get examined and receive certificates, good for one year, that attested to their health and fitness to play. The doctor was a sports medicine physician, Lamberto Boranga, who had been a professional goalkeeper in Serie A and then became a fight doctor for big-time boxing matches in the U.S., such as the Larry Holmes – Mike Weaver title fight in 1979 at Madison Square Garden (he showed us his ringside badge). He happens to be the over-65 world record holder in the long jump (5.47 meters; = 17.95 ft.) and triple jump (10.75 meters). He is still playing goalkeeper in competitive amateur matches in Italy at age 70 (ESPN FC did a special story on him, just two days ago), and watch this save from just last week:

Let’s just say he’s fit. He examined the boys, did ultrasounds of their hearts (they loved seeing it beat on the screen), and Jakob and Simon ran on the treadmill while being monitored (Micah did too, but just for fun). Pretty thorough for youth soccer, but it seems like a good idea.

UPDATE 4 (25 Oct)the season begins!
Last week, the season began for Simon’s team; they lost 10-0 away to San Sisto. Simon was not able to play because the kids do not yet have their player cards (see above). But we are getting closer. Micah and Jakob are both playing in younger leagues that do not use official referees, so they will be able to play in matches (Jakob played his first this Wednesday, a 1-0 loss away to Madonna del Alta on a goal at the very end of the match; he is playing on the wing). Simon may finally get to play in his team’s next match on Sunday now that we have our Permessi di Soggiorno; we’ll see whether the referee allows it.

Coach Nicola, in charge of the Giovanissimi ‘Rossi’ squad that he is on, has asked him to play in central defense. He’s tall and sees the game well, so shifting back from defensive midfield, where they have too many players, to a center back should be a good learning experience. Nicola was himself a center back when he played, so he’ll be getting excellent instruction. It is difficult to find good defenders in America because everyone wants to score, whereas defending is a real art in Italy, so Simon is happy with the change and ready to take on the challenge. His game results will be posted at the FIGC Lega Nazionale Dilettanti – Umbria site.

Also, with regard to the Certificate of Residency and Certificate of the State of the Family, I stopped in twice more at the Comune, under the loggia at the Palazzo dei Priori, to get more information. The first time, I was given additional information about how to apply; the clerk was very nice and spoke excellent English. I then called 075 075 075 and got an appointment for Nov. 5, when I could apply in person for the Certificates. He then said it would take 90 days to get them. The second time I went back, we were accompanied by Lorena, the mother of one of Simon’s friends at school, who had invited him to her birthday party at a local restaurant, where I had the chance to meet some of the parents. As a lawyer, she was very helpful in helping to translate the process, and this time, a different clerk told us we could get the certificates 48 hours after we applied (which is a big difference). So we will see. Lorena then kindly assisted us in filling out the necessary paperwork. Then it was just a matter of collecting our Permessi di Soggiorno yesterday and making copies of these documents:

  • Passport photo page for each family member,
  • Permesso di Soggiorno for each family member
  • The original and translated (and approved by the Detroit consulate) Apostilles of our marriage certificate and all the kids’ birth certificates). The Questura had been holding onto the Apostilles for the last month; they returned the documents to us when they released our Permessi.

Declaration of Residency for the Comune of Perugia

You will also need the Dati Catastali (“cadastral data”) of your residence. This information is then entered directly at the top of page 3 on this form: “Dichirazione di Residenza all’Ufficiale D’Anagrafe del Comune di Perugia” (see at left), where they ask for: sezione urbana (sq. meters, used to calculate your periodic garbage tax), foglio, numero, and subalterno.  This information should be part of your rental agreement; ask your landlord for it.

A good place to make copies, by the way, is at Rastelli’s Office Store, which is moving next month to Corso Vanucci (where they also have a great toy store for kids). There are also copy places on Via delle Stelle and at the bookstore on Piazza Morlacchi.

UPDATE 5 (5 Nov): applying for Certificates of Residency and State of the Family
Today I had (hopefully) that last bureaucratic appointment, to file for certificates of Residency and the State of the Family. It took about 45 minutes as the official looked through our application, the copies of documents, and began to enter the data into the computer right there. He would generate official receipts of our request, all with stickers and stamps and signatures. The certificates are supposed to be ready within 2-3 days.

During the process, he told me that my codice fiscale number had been calculated incorrectly (his computer would not accept the one I had). He explained why (it had to do with my middle name not originally being included). It is amazing that I’ve done everything else and no one said anything about this problem, but there it is. I now have two different codes in different parts of the Italian system, and one of them is apparently incorrect. Unless I have to, I won’t worry about it. But to get it right in the first place, see this post.


The magic certificates, at last

UPDATE 6 (7 Nov): receiving Certificates of Residency and State of the Family
Today we got ‘combination’ certificates of Residency and State of the Family from the Perugia Comune for each of the three boys. It seemed (though I wasn’t quite clear) that there were different levels of residency certification, but as we had a motivo sportivo, that seemed to mean a quicker turn-around. More stamps and signatures, of course. And 0.78 euros for the printouts — after all our paperwork, that seems a bargain. We should be all set for this weekend’s games. Forza!


The two older kids have photos on their cards, but the youngest (in the piccoli amici) does not.

UPDATE 7 (13 Nov): Temporary Player Cards
Today we got printouts of temporary player cards, after turning in all of the necessary documentation  last week, and then signing a bunch of other forms at Don Bosco. At some point, plastic player cards will arrive, but it’s good to have the temporary cards because that means we no longer have to send the kids’ passports with them when they play a game. On the field, the boys have work to do; after four games, Jakob’s squad is 1-0-3 (W-D-L) and Simon’s squad is 0-0-4 (he’s only played two of those, waiting for official permission). But we are not here to worry about winning games (which is a relief from the sometimes ridiculous emphasis on winning in the U.S.), but to concentrate on development. And already in three months they’ve improved tremendously, with Simon learning central defense and central midfield, and Jakob playing winger. The only one to have scored a goal is Micah, though Jakob had three assists in a game last week.

UPDATE 8 (4 May 2014)Parent Behavior

20140503-121913.jpgRecently Don Bosco posted the sign above at their facility. As it is always interesting to see how other advise parents, here’s a translation:


YOU ARE HERE (in the stands);

WE ARE HERE (on the field).

  1. The coach trains. The referee makes the calls. You enjoy yourself!!!! Your task is to support the squad and your son. And encourage him to improve. So don’t think (about giving) technical instructions; just enjoy the match.
  2. It is not a match without two teams; it is not a game without opponents. Enjoy yourself and applaud as loud as you can.
  3. The match begins in the locker room. It continues on the field, and it ends with a shower. Try to honor these moments, and let your son to live with the group!!!
  4. The bench is not a let-down, but a point of departure. Don’t argue the selections of the coach. Explain to your son that the learning in training is always the prize, and that his moment (to play) will come.
  5. The match is the “test” after a week of training. Learn to take the improvements of the team and of your son, and don’t think just about the result. It doesn’t matter if “you have won” or if “you have lost.” Think only that “today was fun.”

A few notes:

  • The language is gender-specific. It assumes boys are playing. While there is soccer for girls and women at all levels, those opportunities are fairly limited in Italy — only at certain clubs in the larger cities. See Calcio Donne for more info. There is a women’s club in Perugia (AFD Grifo Perugia), which this year played in Serie A (the top division), but they are being relegated into Serie B.
  • Like parents in the U.S., some parents speak loudly to the referee (“fiscia!” they yell when they think there has been a foul; “blow the whistle!”). They also speak to their kids on the field. Sometimes this is letting them know that a defender is on them: “occhio“, literally “eye!” i.e., “watch out!” Sometimes it is encouragement: “Dai dai!” means “Go! Give it all you’ve got!” Sometimes differences get heated and words are exchanged between parents, or the referee has to ask a parent to settle down. Only once have I seen parents have to be physically separated, however.
  • The players all take showers after the match (and then take a good deal of time to fix up their hair afterwards…). For the smallest kids, the locker room is full of parents in there as well, getting their kids changed and cleaned. Players arrive to the game (and leave from it) wearing a formal presentation tracksuit with the team colors and logo (so they look sharp as a team); this outfit is called a “tuta della rappresentanza” or just “tuta” for short. The same tuta is worn when the team goes anywhere on a field trip, or appears at a formal event or celebration. Players bring: a towel, a bathrobe, flip-flops, soap, and shampoo. The group shower (there is always hot water; it would be unthinkable otherwise) is no big deal at any age; there are no American hang-ups about shame.
  • Uniforms are given out prior to the match, with the first 11 numbers given to the starters. They warm up together, while the substitutes kick the ball around on the sideline, or warm up the keeper. By seeing what number your child has, you know whether or not he is starting. Players are not rotated out every 5-10 minutes, as in the U.S., and there is no tyranny of parents keeping stopwatch times to ensure that every player gets the same amount of minutes. That said, up through the Esordienti level, all players get significant minutes, although the strongest players are often kept playing for the entire match. At the Giovanissimi level, players are rarely substituted at all in the first half (only if they are playing miserably, and such a substitution is a bit of a disgrace), so some players play the whole match, while others may only get a few minutes. This is just the way it is.
  • Players, players and coaches do care about whether they win or lose; this might be comparable to the U.S., with attitudes ranging from “developmental” to “winning is everything”. Don Bosco considers itself more on the developmental side; they perceive their rivals, AC Perugia, to be more results-oriented. But yesterday, after Don Bosco’s 2002 Esordienti defeated AC Perugia 3-1 in the last game of the regular season, it was a big deal for Don Bosco, to judge from the celebrations.
  • You don’t say “Good Luck” in any way before a match. You say, “In Bocca al Lupo” (“Into the wolf’s mouth”). The proper response from the player, coach or parent is “Crepi il lupo” (“May the wolf choke”).

Buon Divertimento!