Other than family members, there are few people who are closer than teammates. Somehow, their common pursuit against the odds, that shared moment of victory or defeat, brings even the most diverse people together – and no program does that better than Special Olympics Unified Sports.

Dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences, Special Olympics Unified Sports combines individuals with intellectual disabilities (athletes) and individuals without intellectual disabilities (partners) on the sports teams. The program was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.

“I like Special Olympics because everyone with a disability has an opportunity to take part in something. I enjoy being with friends as well as making new ones. All of the athletes immediately become like a family.” – Joanna Stein, Special Olympic athlete

Why Unified Sports?

Unified Sports® creates unique teammate bonds through sports experiences just like any other sports team, creating a culture of inclusion and fostering understanding in schools and communities around the state. Participation in Unified Sports leads to new friendships, improved self-esteem and positive changes in attitude, behavior and performance for all students involved.

In Unified Sports, teams are made up of people of similar age and ability, which makes practices more fun and games more challenging and exciting for all. Having sport in common is just one more way that preconceptions and false ideas are swept away. Half a million people worldwide take part in Unified Sports, breaking down stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities in a really fun way.

School Based Unified Sports:

Through Unified Champion Schools, Unified Sports is an essential part of successfully creating inclusive school communities where everyone is accepted and respected. By taking it out of the classroom and on to the playing field, students from both the general education and special education classrooms experience new social opportunities and make new friends they may not have otherwise. Their peers without intellectual disabilities learn valuable lessons of character development and may serve as mentors. To learn how to get Unified Sports started at your school, check out the Unified Champion Schools webpage.


The Three Unified Sports Models:

The foundation of Unified Sports is the principal of meaningful involvement, where every player is given an opportunity to contribute to the success of his or her team through their unique skills and qualities. Therefore, three models have been developed to ensure social inclusion: competitive, player development, and recreation.

  1. The Unified Sports Competitive Model combines athletes and partners of similar age and ability as teammates for training and competition. Sports are played without modification to Special Olympics rules with competition as a focus, therefore all teammates have attained sufficient and necessary sport-specific skills and tactics.
  2. The Unified Sports Player Development Model allows teammates of higher abilities to serve as mentors to assist players with lower abilities in practices and competition, all of similar age. Rules may be modified for fair play and defined mentor roles. Player development focuses on social inclusion, development of skills and improved comprehension of game tactics for lower ability players, developing leadership and teaching skills for players in mentoring roles, and offers sub-programs greater options when there are not athletes and partners who match in ability levels.
  3. The Unified Sports Recreation Model involves participation of athletes with and without intellectual disabilities without any prescribed training or competition. The goals are to promote social inclusion and to increase sports skills and knowledge in a less structured environment. The recreation model often acts as an entry point or exposure to the other Unified Sports models.

“Micah feels strongly about wanting to encourage any people with disabilities to join Special Olympics. He sees that those with disabilities can use their abilities through Special Olympics.” – Stephanie Gumness, Micah’s mother

Unified Sports Opportunities

Special Olympics Wisconsin offers the following Unified Sports opportunities:
3v3 Basketball • Alpine Skiing • Bocce • Bowling • Cornhole • Flag Football • Golf • Snowboarding • Swim Relays (4×25) • Track Relays (4×100) • SOFit Fitness Clubs • College Intramurals (UW-Madison)

Unified Sports Coaches Training:

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has partnered with Special Olympics to offer the Special Olympics Unified Sports® Course for Coaches. This training is FREE and online. Take the course now.

Downloadable Resources:

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