Other than family members, few people grow closer than teammates. Somehow, their common pursuit against the odds, that shared moment of victory or defeat, brings even the most diverse people together.
Special Olympics Unified Sports® combines people with (traditional Special Olympics athletes) and without intellectual disabilities (called Partners) on sports teams for training and competition; dramatically increasing inclusion in the community and using sports to help break down barriers that have historically kept people apart.
Throughout the year, in a variety of sports ranging from basketball to golf to track, Unified Sports athletes improve their physical fitness, sharpen their skills, challenge the competition, build new friendships 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 Special Olympics athletes and to promote equality and inclusion. Today, Unified Sports encompasses virtually all Special Olympics sports, and competitions are held at the local, state, national and World levels.
Unified Sports enables Special Olympics athletes to:
- learn new sports
- develop higher-level sports skills
- have new competition experiences
- experience meaningful inclusion (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, and community sports organizations. These partnerships help further include athletes in their community.
Unified Sports is particularly successful in school settings, creating an inclusive environment where everyone benefits. Special education students experience new social opportunities and make new friends they may not have otherwise, and regular education students learned valuable lessons of character development and may serve as peer mentors.
But Unified Sports is for anyone who enjoys competition, fun and friendship! Many parents and siblings find that Unified Sports offers a new way to spend time together and meet other families.
All participants are of similar age and ability, and Unified teams are constructed in such a way as to provide training and competition opportunities that meaningfully challenge and involve all athletes. Special Olympics sports rules ensure that everyone will have a fair and enjoyable competitive experience.
Becoming a Unified Partner
If you are interested in becoming a Unified Partner, follow these steps:
- Contact your local program to see what Unified Sports opportunities exist where you live.
- Complete the Unified Partner Registration Form and submit it to your local program. All Unified Partners 18 years of age and older will be subject to a criminal background check, for the health and safety of our athletes.
- If you are 16 years of age or older, you may take the requisite Special Olympics Protective Behaviors Training on-line (read more below), while you wait for your application to be approved.
- Once you are approved to be a Unified Partner: start having fun!