Unified Partners and Unified Sports
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
Unified 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
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 us to see what Unified Sports opportunities exist where you live.
- Complete the Unified Partner Registration Form and
email the form to the sports contact dedicated to your county/region using the interactive map or region/county selector below. They will help you begin your journey!
- 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, then the fun begins!