Young Athletes is a sport and play program for children ages 2 - 7 years old with and without intellectual disabilities (ID). Young Athletes introduces basic sport skills, like running, throwing and catching. This fun and inclusive program offers families, teachers, caregivers, and people from the community the chance to share the joy of sports with all children and abilities.

Young Athlete Goals

Young Athletes welcomes children and their families into the world of Special Olympics. Here are some of the goals of this program:

  • Let children with and without intellectual disabilities play together to learn about and understand one another
  • Support social inclusion and inclusive play in schools, communities and homes
  • Provide children with activities and games that meet their skill and ability levels
  • Show that all children should be valued for their talents and abilities
  • Promote fitness and teach children about having a healthy lifestyle

Program Benefits

  • Motor skills. Children with ID who took part in an eight-week Young Athletes curriculum saw seven month’s development in motor skill. This is compared to a three month gain in motor skills for children who did not participate.
  • Social, emotional and learning skills. Parents and teachers of children who took part in the Young Athletes curriculum said the children learned skills that they will use in pre-primary school. The children were more enthusiastic and confident. They also played better with other children.
  • Expectations. Family members say that Young Athletes raised their hopes for their child’s future.
  • Sport readiness. Young Athletes helps children develop important movement and sport skills. These skills get them ready to take part in sports and recreation activities when they are older.
  • Acceptance. Inclusive play has a benefit for children without ID as well. It helps them to better understand and accept others.

How does the program work?

  • Young Athlete sites are required to practice a minimum of eight sessions
  • It is recommended that these sessions are conducted over eight consecutive weeks
  • Young athletes also practice a variety of skills building on their strengths to eventually play sports
  • Young Athletes ends with a Culminating Event, much like a District or State Games. Here, athletes demonstrate the skills they’ve learned or improved upon over the weeks and participate in an awards ceremony in which all Young Athletes are acknowledged.

We hope that Young Athletes will prepare an easy transition for athletes with intellectual disabilities to participate in our traditional or Unified programs when they turn eight.

Activity Guide

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I start this program at my school?
Fit this program into school day activities or after-school programming by using our easy to follow, weekly curriculum.

How much will it cost our school?
The Young Athletes program is completely free of charge. You simply need a place to run the program (gym, large classroom, outdoor field, etc.) and a staff member passionate about sports and inclusion to serve as a coach!

What supplies should we use?
A kit full of fun sports equipment, training materials and coach and student T-shirts are all provided by Special Olympics Wisconsin.

What’s the benefit to our school and our students?
Building a school community of acceptance that’s welcoming for people of all abilities improves the life and experience of all students. This program helps unite students with and without disabilities as they find a common ground in the joy of sports and play.

Participating Sites

  • Stevens Point YMCA, Stevens Point
    • Contact Kristy Bridenhagen at kbridenhagen@spymca.org
  • St. Croix Therapy, Hudson
    • Contact Tara Connolly at tconnolly@stcroixtherapy.org
  • Family Resource Center for Eau Claire County, Eau Claire
    • Contact Lauri Malnory at lmalnory@ecasd.us
  • The Arc of Fond Du Lac, Fond Du Lac
    • Contact Chelsea Brooks at cbrooks@arcfdl.org
  • Darboy Kiwanis, Appleton
    • Contact Jodi Avery at avesfam@gmail.com
  • Oconto Falls Area, Oconto Falls
    • Contact Terri Olsen at terri.olsen@of-ps.org
  • Gigi’s Playhouse, Madison
    • Contact Julia Meyers at jmeyers@gigisplayhouse.org
  • Rusch Elementary School, Portage
    • Contact Mercy Hernandez at hernandezm@portage.k12.wi.us
  • Columbus Elementary School, Columbus
    • Contact Karin Westlake at KWestlake@columbus.k12.wi.us
  • La Crosse Area, La Crosse
    • Contact Erin Dusek at duseke@cityoflacrosse.org
  • Milwaukee Public Schools
    • Contact Katie Seitz at seitzkl@milwaukee.k12.wi.us
    • Benjamin Franklin Elementary, MPS
    • Bruce Guadalupe Community School, MPS
    • Clement Avenue School, MPS
    • Engleburg Elementary, MPS
    • Forest Home Avenue Elementary, MPS
    • Honey Creek School, MPS
    • Manitoba School, MPS
    • Milwaukee French Immersion, MPS
    • Ralph Waldo Emerson, MPS
    • Riley Elementary School, MPS

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