Young Athletes

Program Overview

In early 2007, Special Olympics created this pilot program to reach out to children with intellectual disabilities ages 3 to 7, and to welcome them and their families to the Special Olympics movement.

Through Young Athletes, volunteers introduce young children to the world of sport, with the goal of preparing them for Special Olympics Missouri sports training and competition at age 8. The program focuses on the basics that are crucial to cognitive development: physical activities that develop motor skills and hand-eye coordination, and the application of these physical skills through sports skills programs. 

More than 250 children are currently participating in the Young Athletes program throughout Missouri. For many of their families, this is their first introduction to Special Olympics and the resources and support we offer for children (and adults) with intellectual disabilities. We are already seeing positive results from helping these children improve physically, cognitively and socially.

To learn more about the Young Athletes programs in your area, contact your area director.  For more information, resources or material on the Young Athletes initiative please visit

Social and communications development

Improved social skills are another inspiring reason parents enroll their children in SOMO Young Athletes. The confidence boost makes it easier for them to interact with other children on the playground, whether or not they have intellectual disabilities.

Reports from parents are encouraging, and the science looks promising, too. Preliminary findings from a study conducted by the University of Massachusetts suggest that participation in Young Athletes may lead to improvements in motor development, social and emotional development and communication development.

The program made its global debut in fall 2007 at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai, China.

Program goals

This program is designed to address two specific levels of play. Level 1 includes physical activities focused on developing fundamental motor tracking and eye-hand coordination.  Level 2 concentrates on the application of these physical activities through a sports skills activity program and developing skills consistent with Special Olympics sports play.  The activities will consist of foundational skills, walking & running, balance, and jumping, trapping & catching, throwing, striking, kicking and advanced skills.

Quick Links:

Young Athletes Equipment
Young Athletes Activity Guide
Young Athletes Resources

Quick Links

Athlete's Oath

"Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."  


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