Year-Round Sports & Training

For Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities

Unified Sports

Promoting Social Inclusion through Sport

Links and Resources

NFHS Coaching Unified Sports Principle of Meaningful Involvement Sport Essentials Unified Sports Resources Become a Unified Sports Partner

Team sports bring people together.

Special Olympics Unified Sports® teams do that, too, and much more. About 1.2 million people worldwide take part in Unified Sports, breaking down stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities in a really fun way. ESPN has served as the Global Presenting Sponsor of Special Olympics Unified Sports since 2013, supporting the growth and expansion of this program that empowers individuals with and without intellectual disabilities to engage through the power of sports.

Special Olympics is dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences. Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.

In Unified Sports, teams are made up of people of similar age and ability. That 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.

More and more U.S. states are adopting the Unified Sports approach that Special Olympics pioneered. Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® programming is in more than 8,300 schools across the United States, with a goal of being in 10,000 schools by 2024.

In more than 8,300 Unified Champion Schools across the country, Special Olympics has trained and mobilized youth leaders and educators to create more inclusive schools by including students with ID in all aspects of school life. Social inclusion is promoted by bringing together young people with and without ID on sports teams (Special Olympics Unified Sports®), through inclusive student clubs, and by fostering youth leadership. As many as 19.5 million young people are taking part in these experiences, which are increasing acceptance of people of all abilities while simultaneously reducing stigma and bullying.


Seven (7) Criteria for a Successful Unified Sports Program

Extensive field-testing has demonstrated that Unified Sports teams are most likely to accomplish the goals of the program when the following 7 criteria are met:

1) All athletes and partners are meaningfully involved.

2) An appropriate sport is selected – A variety of factors influence the determination of which sport is chosen for Unified Sports training and competition. Some of these factors include availability of qualified coaches, ability levels of potential athletes and partners, finances, availability of facilities and opportunities for competition.

3) Qualified coaches lead the program – Unified Sports teams should be organized under the guidance of a trained coach who understands the principles of Unified Sports, including social inclusion, and the rules, techniques, strategies and training regimens of the selected sport.

4) Recruitment and selection of appropriate team members occurs through the process of assessing, forming teams and determining the most appropriate Unified Sports model.

5) Quality training leads to competition – All team members of a Unified Sports team shall have a minimum of ten to twelve weeks of training (practice, scrimmages and league competition) before the culminating championship event.

6) Unified Sports rules are followed – All Unified Sports competitions should be conducted according to Official Special Olympics Sports Rules, including placement of Unified Sports teams in appropriate age and ability divisions.

7) Commitment of support: Support is needed at four levels – Program; Local Program; Coach; Spectator.

Links and Resources

NFHS Coaching Unified Sports Principle of Meaningful Involvement Sport Essentials Unified Sports Resources Become a Unified Sports Partner