Who can participate in Special Olympics?

Special Olympics training and competition is open to every person with intellectual disabilities who is at least eight years of age and who registers to participate in Special Olympics. There is no maximum age limitation for participation in Special Olympics.

Participation in Special Olympics training and competition is open to all persons with intellectual disabilities, regardless of the level or degree of that person’s disability, and whether or not that person also has other physical disabilities, so long as that person registers to participate in Special Olympics as required by the General Rules.

Any person wishing to participate must first have a medical exam, a signed Medical Release, a signed Parent/guardian/individual Release and a signed Athlete Code of Conduct.

Why is the Medical and Release Form necessary?

Application for Participation (Medical Form) is similar to release forms required for any other sports program. It provides for:

  1. Necessary medical information, including a health history, health insurance information and emergency contacts, including physician, parents or guardians.
  2. It makes the athlete eligible to be covered by Special Olympics, Inc. medical insurance as a secondary policy.

The Release Form provides for:

  1. Emergency medical treatment to be provided in the event that a parent or guardian cannot be reached.
  2. A media release.
  3. Acknowledgement of any restrictions for athletes with Downs Syndrome.

Is there a fee to participate in special Olympics?

There is no cost to any athlete to join Special Olympics Florida or to compete in any of the competitions. Most costs associated with state competitions, such as meals, awards and housing, are covered by Special Olympics Florida. County programs cover the costs of training, uniforms and travel for all levels of competition.

What about financial support?

Athletes are never charged to participate in Special Olympics programs. We need the financial support of people and companies in our communities. You can always make a donation.

What if we don’t have the resources to have a personal physician sign the form, or to have our athlete with Down Syndrome have the x-rays to test for Atlanto-axial Instability?

Contact your county health department, Children & Family Services or the County Director for a possible list of physicians or hospitals who may provide this service.

How do potential athletes get involved with Special Olympics Florida?

  1. Print and complete the necessary forms listed in the Athlete section.
  2. Return forms to the County Director.
  3. County Directors will assist athletes in locating coaches and organized practices for the sports of choice.
  4. Athletes attend training practices and thereby make themselves eligible to compete at County, Area, and State competitions.

How is Special Olympics Structured:

A. In addition to planning and conducting a series of county sports competitions throughout the year, each County Program is responsible for all aspects of the program including: recruitment of new athletes and volunteers; recruiting and training sport coaches; training and preparing athletes for competition; submission of athlete applications for participation; training materials; development of local public relations efforts; registration of athletes for all levels of competition and conducting local fundraising. A County Director and Management Team are recruited to manage the County Program.

B. One of the most important segments of the county program is the Local Training Program. A Local Training Program is defined as any group of Special Olympics athletes and coaches taking part in sports training leading to participation in Special Olympics competition. Local Training Programs include school-based programs, parks & recreation agencies, group homes, residential facilities, activity centers, or an independent training program.

C. For administrative and competition advancement purposes, Special Olympics Florida has been divided into 11 Areas, each of which covers two or more neighboring counties. An Area Program Director is appointed to manage each area program.

D. Special Olympics Florida is governed by a State Board of Directors. Special Olympics Florida is accredited by Special Olympics Inc. in Washington, D.C.

How is Special Olympics Financed:

Special Olympics Florida is a not-for-profit organization that is funded primarily through individual and corporate contributions. Special Olympics Florida receives no money from The Kennedy Foundation and is not a United Way Agency.

How much does it cost to watch my athlete compete at a local or State competition?

Nothing! We welcome all spectators to our events and there is never any charge to come and cheer for your athlete.

I don’t have the time available at this time to coach. How else can I help?

There are many ways to help. How about volunteering your time at a local competition? If you have an hour or two to spare, there are any number of volunteer opportunities that are available. Volunteering at a local competition is a great way to involve the entire family. Another way to help is to support fundraising events. Special Olympics relies solely on the donations received from people, organizations and corporations in our community. We receive no federal or state funding of any kind so we appreciate any support you can give to our fundraising activities.

What sports does Special Olympics Florida offer?

Special Olympics Florida offers these Olympic-type sports.

How can I find out what competitions are coming up in my area?

Click here to locate your area and find out about upcoming events and competitions near you.

How are Special Olympics athletes grouped for competition?

The key to a successful experience for Special Olympics athletes lies in providing each athlete with a reasonable chance to win. This is done by “divisioning,” a feature which make Special Olympics unique among sports organizations. Athletes are divided into competition division based on gender, ability and age. A competition division will ideally consist of a minimum of three athletes and can have no more than eight athletes. Special Olympics suggests that the variance between the highest and lowest scores within the division should not differ by more than 15%.

This 15% statement is not a rule, but should be used as a guideline for establishing equitable divisions when the number of athletes competing is appropriate. Each division is considered a unique sport heat with awards being given based upon the results of each individual heat.

Why do Special Olympics Officials at competitions enforce sports rules:

Knowing and learning to play by the rules is one of the greatest benefits Special Olympics offers its athletes. Because…

  • Impaired does not mean incapable. Special Olympics athletes are capable of learning and competing with sports rules.
  • Challenging athletes in this manner adds to the pride and sense of accomplishment they experience. It is unfair to athletes who are properly trained and who are following the rules to compete against others who are not.
  • Some Special Olympics athletes eventually move into other sports programs (school, parks & recreation, community leagues, etc.). They will be better prepared for the transition if learning and competing by the rules is one of the skills they take with them from Special Olympics.

Is sports training available for athletes of all levels?

Special Olympics offers training and competition to athletes with varying ability levels. Some sports offer particular opportunities for athletes who function with low ability levels. For example, three events currently offered in swimming include: 10 m assisted swim and the 15 m flotation device (life preserver) race. Each county program selects the sports they will offer. Factors that determine which sports can be offered include availability of facilities, trained coaches, funds and athlete interest. Ask your county director which sports are offered in your county.

What if my athlete does not have the necessary skills to compete?

Motor Activities Training Program (MATP) provides comprehensive motor activity and recreational training for people with severe/multiple disabilities. MATP places an emphasis on training and participation rather than competition.

MATP enables a participant to take part in a program appropriate to his or her age and ability. After a minimum eight-week training program, athletes participate in a training exhibition that gives each participant a chance to demonstrate his or her ability. Athletes are recognized for their accomplishments with a challenge ribbon. Participants in the MATP program currently train in mobility, dexterity, striking, kicking, wheelchair activities and aquatics.

Can family members coach?

Family members who are 18 years of age or older can volunteer as coaches. Special Olympics periodically provides coaches with the opportunity to attend certification trainings in different sports so that they can learn techniques and skills in order to work with Special Olympics athletes. Remember, you won’t just be coaching your own athlete; you will be working with other athletes as well.

What is Unified Sports?

Unified Sports® is a Special Olympics program that brings together people with intellectual disabilities and other non-disabled members of the community on the same sports team. Non-disabled individuals training and competing on Unified Sports® teams are called Unified Sports® Partners.

My Athlete has a non-disabled sibling, can they participate?

Non-disabled siblings cannot participate as a Special Olympics athlete. However, depending on their age and the sport they are interested in, they could participate in our Unified Sports® Program and be a Unified partner with their Special Olympics sibling. Unified Sports® brings disabled and non-disabled athletes together on the same playing field. 

Inclusion is such a hot topic these days. Doesn’t Special Olympics separate, and even stigmatize athletes from their peers?

There are several ways to look at this issue. One response is to look at whether the athlete is capable of participating successfully in mainstream sports activities at this time. In some cases, an athlete may feel more stigmatized in a mainstream sports program if he or she is teased or ignored for weaker sports skills or atypical behavior.

In many cases, Special Olympics can be a good “training ground” to build an athlete’s sports skills, interpersonal abilities, and confidence to prepare him or her to become involved in mainstream sports. Special Olympics offers an environment that is safe, positive, and motivational.

Many Special Olympics programs do have inclusive options such as Unified Sports®, and these programs might be very appropriate for some athletes. In Unified Sports®, the athlete can learn from and build friendships from their teammates (Unified partners).

How could families help us reach more athletes?

Special Olympics Florida is making a concerted effort to reach out to new athletes.

  1. Families are encouraged to reach out to new families in the spirit of “each one reach one.”
  2. Families could contact school principals and offer support to education, the faculty and students about Special Olympics and to help enroll potential athletes.
  3. Families could contact managers of group homes, other residential programs, and vocational training sites and offer to educate staff and clients about Special Olympics and assist them in registering and setting up a training program.
  4. Park and Recreation Departments could be approached by parents to provide facilities and resources for local training programs.
  5. Family members could coach or serve on the county management teams.
  6. Family members could be trained as Family Messengers to help spread the word.
  7. Contact your County Director and offer to be on the Athlete Recruitment Committee.