Unified Sports allows athletes with and without intellectual disabilities to compete together.
Special Olympics Unified Sports® is an additional means for carrying out and fulfilling the mission of Special Olympics: To provide year-round sports training and athlete competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children 8 years of age and older, as well as adults with intellectual disabilities , giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community. The Special Olympics athlete is all-important to the mission and experiencing new, varied, integrated and more challenging levels of athletic achievement and opportunity, e.g., Unified Sports®, is crucial in the continuing evolution of Special Olympics athletes in communities throughout the world.
Unified Sports® is a program endorsed and developed by Special Olympics Inc. Unified Sports® presently includes Basketball, Bowling, Cycling, Distance Running, Soccer, Tennis and Volleyball with several other sports undergoing field tests in numerous states and countries. At this point in development, Unified Sports® has an estimated 50,000 athletes now participating worldwide in cooperation with schools, civic associations, Parks and Recreation departments and other community sports organizations.
DEFINITION OF UNIFIED SPORTS®:
Unified Sports® is a program that combines approximately equal numbers of Special Olympics athletes with peer athletes without intellectual disabilities on sports teams for training and competition. Furthermore, all players (Athletes and Special Partners*) are of similar age and ability. Athletes in this program need to have the necessary skill level to participate in the sport so they can be appropriately matched with their Special Partners.
Unified Sports® is an important program because it expands sports opportunities for athletes seeking new challenges. In addition, Unified Sports® dramatically increases inclusion in the community by helping to break down the barriers that have historically kept people with and without intellectual disabilities apart. At the same time, Unified Sports® provides a valuable sports opportunity to individuals with intellectual disabilities who are not presently involved with Special Olympics. This is especially true for those with intellectual disabilities and for those in communities where there are not enough Special Olympics athletes to conduct team sports.
Unified Sports® has become an important addition to the overall Special Olympics program and has helped further reach its mission.
*Descriptors like Special Athletes (athletes with intellectual disabilities ) and Special Partners (athletes without intellectual disabilities ) are sometimes necessary to differentiate the two groups in Special Olympics literature; however, Unified Sports® program leaders are encouraged to refer to all athletes as teammates.
Special Olympics Wisconsin is eager to work closely with Agencies throughout the state to foster development of Unified Sports®. An important component of support will be to identify the organizations that are interested in the start-up of Unified Sports® programs. If you wish to become involved, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. SOWI joins numerous other states and countries in the efforts to offer an additional way to challenge existing Special Olympics athletes, recruit more Special Olympics athletes and to welcome community peer athletes into Unified Sports®. These efforts will create a unique and mainstreamed level of sports competition. Please join us in these efforts!