Unified Sports®
unified sports

Special Olympics Unified Sports® is an inclusive program that combines individuals with intellectual disabilities (athletes) and individuals without intellectual disabilities (Unified Partners) on sports teams for training and competition. Athletes and partners compete alongside one another, each in a meaningful and integral role on the Unified Sports team. SOMO offers 21 Olympic-type sports divsioned by age and ability for its athletes and each and every sport has the capability of being structured for Unified Sports if someone is interested.

Sports bring people together. Special Olympics Unified Sports® teams do that too and much more. Half a million people worldwide take part in Unified Sports®, breaking down stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities in a really fun way.

Special Olympics Unified Sports promotes social inclusion through shared sport training and competition experiences for individuals with and without intellectual disabilities. Unified Sports has proven to be highly effective in achieving social inclusion. Athletes feel a sense of belonging; they can meaningfully interact with others, develop mutually rewarding relationships, are recognized as contributors and are received with acceptance and respect. 

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.

If you are interested in partnering with one of our nearly 16,500 athletes in training and competition, visit our Communities page to connect with our program staff who can put you in contact with the right people to sign up. It truly doesn't matter how good you think you are at a certain sport, our athletes are looking to connect with you and will be happy that you're willing to be their friend in and out of the arena of competition.

For more information and resources on Unified Sports® including tools, documents, research studies and other partnerships, visit the SOI website.

Unified Partner form
Coach Guidelines
Models Overview
Player Development Guidelines
Student Guide
Info Sheet

Missouri State High School Acitivities Association (MSHSAA)
Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) and Special Olympics Missouri have partnered up to support an inclusive sports program for people with disabilities. This partnership is in response to the January 2013 letter from the US Department of Education regarding the inclusion of students with disabilities in extracurricular athletics. Our goal is to build these programs in every school in Missouri who wish to develop leagues, conferences, and championships similar to those already in place by MSHSAA. To do this, we need your help to form local Unified teams!

Three models exist within Unified Sports: Competitive Unified Sports, Unified Sports Player Development and Unified Sports Recreation. All three models provide different types of experiences in team sports such as basketball, football and volleyball and in individual sports such as bocce, golf and tennis. Unified Sports is now offered throughout the world and has been a Special Olympics internationally sanctioned program since 1989.

All three models,  defined  below,  have social  inclusion  as the core  outcome;  however,  the  structure  and  function  of  each model varies. Special Olympics Missouri recommends the competitive and the player development models; however the recreation model may be a place to begin a new program.

Unified Sports (Competitive)

  •  Special Olympics athletes (individuals with intellectual disabilities + community partners (individuals without intellectual disabilities)
  •  Inclusive sports program with approximately equal numbers of athletes and partners of similar age and ability
  •  Compete without modification of Special Olympics Official Sports Rules
  •  Teams may be eligible for advancement to State, Regional and World Games

Unified Sports Player Development

  •  Special Olympics athletes (individuals with intellectual disabilities + community partners (individuals without intellectual disabilities)
  •  Inclusive sports program with approximately equal numbers of athletes and partners of similar age; teammate are not required to be of similar ability
  •  Teammates of higher abilities serve as mentors to assist teammates of lower abilities in developing sport-specific skills and tactics, and in successfully participating in a cooperative team environment. 
  •  Because of differences in abilities, rules modifications are necessary and designed to both ensure meaningful involvement of all teammates and define for higher ability players their roles as mentors so they do not dominate play.
  •  Teams may be eligible for advancement to state-level competition 

Unified Sports Recreation

  •  Special Olympics athletes (individuals with intellectual disabilities + community partners (individuals without intellectual disabilities)
  •  Inclusive recreational program that does not follow any prescribed training, competition and/or team composition requirements established by Special Olympics. 
  •  Recreational opportunities may take place in partnership with schools, sport clubs, the community and other private or public organizations as introductory one-day events, exhibitions or demonstrations (including Unified Sports Experiences) or ongoing activities such as physical education classes and intramurals.

See http://www.specialolympics.org/unified-sports.aspx for more information.

Coaching Unified Sports
Coaches must possess a strong knowledge of the sport and the rules. In addition, coaches must be able to apply that knowledge in practice and competition settings. Coaches should take part in approved coaches’ education to upgrade knowledge of the sport, new practice activities and game strategies, and to share ideas with other coaches.

Special Olympics Missouri requires that all coaches are trained. Each team is required to have a non-playing head coach. To become a head coach you are required to take: 

1) General Session: Covers the basics about Special Olympics 
2) Principles of Coaching: Explains what it takes to be a coach and how to coach Special Olympics athletes 
3) A sport–specific course: Teaches you how to run drills, improve players, game strategies, and rules of the game  
4) Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and First Aid (CPR/FA) 
5) How to be a Unified Sports coach course
All of these except the sport-specific course and the CPR/FA courses are available to take online. The General Session and Principles of Coaching can be found on our website. The Unified Sports training can be found on the NFHS website. Coaches with coaching experience may be able to get their sport-specific training waived.

Building Unified Sports With ESPN and Disney
The Walt Disney Company, ESPN and Special Olympics have announced a two-year global initiative that will leverage the power of sports to promote an environment of social inclusion and acceptance through the Special Olympics Unified Sports program. With a multi-million dollar financial and in-kind investment, Disney and ESPN will support Special Olympics’ goal of registering one million Unified Sports participants--athletes with intellectual disabilities, teammates without intellectual disabilities and coaches--by 2015. Read more about this exciting partnership.


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