Special Olympics Unified Sports® is an initiative that combines approximately equal numbers of Special Olympics athletes and athletes without intellectual disabilities (called Partners) on sports teams for training and competition. Age and ability matching of athletes and Partners is defined on a sport-by-sport basis.
Throughout the year, in a variety of sports ranging from basketball to golf to figure skating, Unified Sports athletes improve their physical fitness, sharpen their skills, challenge the competition and have fun, too. The concept of combining athletes with intellectual disabilities and those without was first introduced in the mid-1980s to provide another level of challenge for higher ability athletes and to promote equality and inclusion.
Unified Sports enables athletes to:
- Learn new sports;
- Develop higher-level sports skills;
- Have new competition experiences;
- Experience meaningful inclusion as each athlete is ensured of playing a valued role on the team;
- Socialize with peers and form friendships (the initiative provides a forum for positive social interaction between teammates and often leads to long-lasting friendships);
- Participate in their communities and have choices outside of Special Olympics
- Unified Sports programs often are initiated by community partners, including parks and recreation departments, schools, Boys and Girls Clubs of America and community sports organizations. These partnerships help further include athletes in their community.
The Special Olympics Unified Sports handbook includes all the information coaches need to start and maintain a successful Unified Sports program.
View the Unified Sports handbook.