Our Coaches

Floor hockey players in South Africa gather round their coach for a strategy session before a tournament held near Johannesburg. Photo by Will Schermerhorn

Was there a mentor, teacher or coach who made a difference in your life? The one who gave you the courage and determination to strive to be your best? The one who helped shape both your performance and your character? You can be that important person in someone else’s life.

More Than a Coach

Coaches teach the skills and spirit that define a true athlete. Coaches are role models and character-builders.

Special Olympics coaches go even further -- they help athletes with intellectual disabilities find their own strengths and abilities. They also show them how to build upon those strengths and improve every day.

As a Special Olympics coach, you bring enthusiasm, commitment and a positive attitude to each practice, event and competition. You will enrich the lives of our athletes in many life-changing ways. The skills and confidence an athlete learns through sports have a long and lasting effect. They can help an athlete succeed in school or even find a job.

Coaches also get a lot in return. They get to know athletes who inspire -- athletes who are brave and determined, despite the odds against them.  Coaches become more than teachers, mentors and role models -- they are seen as leaders in the community.  

About Intellectual Disability

Special Olympics is a global movement of people who want to improve the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. But what are intellectual disabilities? Learn More

Coaching Excellence

Special Olympics is committed to Coaching Excellence -- because it benefits both coaches and athletes at the same time. In a supportive learning environment, coaches work to enhance athletes’ sport techniques, tactics and fitness.

One of our top Coaching Excellence goals calls for ongoing coaches’ education; this includes partnering with sports organizations to provide the highest and most up-to-date level of coaching knowledge. Coaching Excellence education helps our coaches better recognize each athlete’s potential. It also comes into play as we increase training and competition opportunities so that each athlete can reach -- or exceed -- their personal best.

As you can see, the focus and commitment is on the athletes. In this way, appropriate training helps coaches provide the best opportunities and experiences for athletes -- at every developmental level -- to reach their maximum potential.

Our coaches aim high and take pride in their athletes' achievements, which can often be life-changing moments. In the words of Annette Lynch, senior manager of Sports Partnerships, Special Olympics North America: “If better is possible, good is not enough.”


Special Olympics athletes with coach in a huddle.

Bringing Out the Best. Special Olympics coaches play an important role in the lives of Special Olympics athletes. 

Coaches Who Inspire -- and Are Inspired

Our coaches give Special Olympics athletes the chance to reach his or her potential --and find their dreams. At the same time, something special can happen.

For Mike Cohen, the surprise came after he began coaching young men with intellectual disabilities who loved basketball. With his training and guidance, the team grew in skill and confidence. They soon began competing against other Special Olympics teams throughout Florida. Soon, their classmates and neighborhood began to follow their games. For the first time, the young men were valued and praised in their community.

Coach Cohen expected Special Olympics to give purpose to these young men. But he didn’t expect to be transformed himself – by their courage and commitment. He also knew he had made a real difference in their lives. Now he is a key player in his local Special Olympics Program. He encourages everyone he knows to get involved.


Stories About Our Coaches


July 22, 2016 | North America: Michigan

"What's the matter with him?"

By Alexia Weber

Some years ago my youngest daughter (aged 4) was asked "what's the matter with him?" about her brother's best friendView Story Some years ago my youngest daughter (aged 4) was asked "what's the matter with him?" about her brother's best friend (aged 6, before they were old enough to be Special Olympics athletes) by a pre-teenage boy. The young man in question has CP and is in a wheelchair. He is non-verbal and non-ambulatory. My daughter has been around him since she was born. She looks him up and down, smiles and says in typical 4-year-old fashion, "nothing." He wasn't crying or fussing so he was fine in her eyes. Older child tries to rephrase: "Why is he in the wheelchair?" Daughter doesn't miss a beat and responds with "because he isn't on the floor." Her innocence is what we all need to focus on. There was nothing wrong with her buddy; he was just fine to her. Just because someone may use a wheelchair doesn't mean anything is "wrong." Now I know what that boy was after -- he was looking for something more specific he would at age 13 work with. Well, don't ask a 4 year old...

About Alexia Weber:I am a parent, coach, training clinician, volunteer, whatever this wonderful organization needs. Special Olympics has been the best thing for our family. Really helps my son shine and grow into the wonderful young man he now is (age 20).
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July 01, 2016 | Europe Eurasia: Malta

Athlete Leader Fiona Ellul Bonici a true inspiration in Malta

By Mo Clarke

Fiona with her mum, Christine

Fiona Ellul Bonici, 21, is not just a great goalkeeper for the Special Olympics Malta football team. She is much more.View Story Fiona Ellul Bonici, 21, is not just a great goalkeeper for the Special Olympics Malta football team. She is much more: a colleague, a Coach Assistant and a Young Athletes Coach. Fiona began working at Special Olympics Malta in 2014 as part of the Leap Project, a Government initiative which places people with disabilities in the workplace. She works in the program office but also takes part in regular training sessions. When she started assisting at the swimming sessions it was obvious where her talents lay. “It was evident immediately how good Fiona was with the athletes, she was so patient during trainings and she had a special connection with the younger children” says Sports Director Elaine Bonnici. This led to her becoming part of the Young Athletes team. “It gives me so much satisfaction to see the children improve as they take part in regular trainings. I also see them learning to take their turns and how to say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’, “said Fiona. She added: “I have developed so much myself since I began coaching Young Athletes. I used to be very nervous and had difficulties communicating with others. I am now so much calmer and find it much easier to speak with people. My mother has also noticed how I much have improved and developed socially.”

About Mo Clarke:Manager - Young Athletes, Families & Athlete Leadership for Special Olympics in Europe Eurasia
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June 24, 2016 | North America: Illinois

Bond Between Student and Coach Transforms Life of Special Olympics Swimmer at YMCA

By Carolyn Gessner

Sam Kasallis (left), with Coach Tom March of the North Suburban YMCA, poses with the medals he earned at the Special Olympics Illinois District Swim Meet on March 19. Sam went on to compete in the Illinois Summer Games, earning a silver medal in the 25M Freestyle.

Less than a year ago, Sam Kasallis could barely dog-paddle. Fast forward to today, and Sam is a strong swimmer who just won a silver medal.View Story Less than a year ago, Sam Kasallis could barely dog-paddle. At age 15, the Deerfield, Illinois resident with autism had tried regular swim lessons, but his special needs were too challenging for most instructors. Fast forward to today, and Sam is a strong swimmer who just won a silver medal in the 2016 Special Olympics Illinois Summer Games. Sam’s achievements grew out of a special coach-student relationship at the North Suburban YMCA. Instructor Tom March, an expert in helping individuals with autism, worked with Sam in private lessons. As Sam’s skills progressed, Coach March encouraged him to join the Y’s “Flying Turtles” Special Olympics team. Sam overcame all obstacles to earn gold and silver medals at the Special Olympics District Meet on March 19. At the June Illinois Summer games, the Flying Turtles brought home 10 gold medals and two silvers – including one earned by Sam in the 25M Freestyle.

About Carolyn Gessner:Carolyn Gessner of Creative Marketing Associates in Northfield, Illinois, represents the North Suburban YMCA. For over 45 years, the NSYMCA has served families in a 15-city region north of Chicago, Illinois. For more information, visit http://nsymca.org.
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June 13, 2016 | North America: Minnesota

The Marathon Man: How James Chalmers Inspires Others Every Time He Runs [video]

By By Kari Jo Faulhaber

A post on the StoryTeller blog tells the story of a Special Olympics athlete and the opportunities that changed his life.View Story A story posted on the StoryTeller blog by Kari Jo Faulhaber In the wake of the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles, my family and I attended a send-off celebration for Minnesota athletes traveling to California to compete. We strongly believe in their mission of promoting inclusion and providing opportunity for people with disabilities. It’s making a difference, and we’ve seen it specifically with my brother, Zach, who’s a Special Olympics athlete. Among the positivity and inspiration floating throughout the room, there was one special story shared on stage by a Special Olympics athlete that left me stunned in my seat. It was James. He recalled the emotional ups and downs of living with Cri Du Chat syndrome and played on metaphors of how the opportunities Special Olympics has given him dramatically changed his path. I sat in my chair that evening and knew I had to tell “Jim”’s story. The next morning, I approached Ed Heil, the owner of StoryTeller, and he agreed within seconds. I called James shortly after the event and within a few weeks we were sitting in Jim’s living room, capturing moments, struggles and triumphs from his life’s journey. "I always felt there was something missing from my life. This is why I run." James breaks barriers, stereotypes and judgments of people with disabilities. Not to mention ignites a fire within all of us to keep pushing, keep trying, keep running. He's a true inspiration. No wonder the CEO of Red Wing Shoes told us that James was the most important of his 2,000 employees.

About By Kari Jo Faulhaber :The story by Kari Jo Faulhaber was posted here by James Chalmers. He said, "I was born with a birth defect, called Cri du Chat syndrome. Because of this, my life was limiting more than my friends and classmates. IN 1992, I became a coach for the RED WING Special Olympics teams BOWLING, SWIMMING, & TRACK & Field!!!! I AM AS A Volunteer COACH FOR THE RED WING HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS TEAMS. 26 YEARS WITH FOOTBALL!!!! 8-15 games a YEAR!!! TIME 4-12 7 TO 8 & 1/2 HOURS A HOME GAME!!!! BASKETBALL, '94 TO '08!!!! '93 T0 '96 BASEBALL. HELP OUT AT CHURCH, 1991 THE ONLY MGR WITH BCC FOOTBALL TEAM. 1992. Today, because of Special Olympics, I can meet the world head on. Also, coaching has taught me more about myself than anything else I have done. I work for the Red Wing Shoe Company. I have been working there for almost 20 years."
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June 13, 2016 | North America: Florida

"Ali Bug"

By By Gina Warren

She was born with many challenges. But Alicen has accomplished far more than anyone expected her to when she was born.View Story On Feb. 21, 1998 Alicen Diane Warren came into this world 3 1/2 months early (25 weeks) weighing just under 2 pounds. After defying medical odds and living through her first 24 hours, she would spend the next 2 months battling one hurdle after another. A couple being a grade IV hemorrhage(in her brain) and Meningitis that spread to the lining of her brain. The Doctors as gently as possible told her parents that if she survived the meningitis at best she would be a vegetable. They were informed that Alicen would not grow up to walk, talk, or feed herself. Both Mom and Dad tried to remain as positive as possible.Mom recalls praying that she would just grow up to know that God created her for a purpose. Dad had visions of pushing his daughter in a wheel chair and hoped she would at least get some kind of joy out of football. Eighteen years later and Alicen's parents have both received what they dreamed for, their little girl and far more.At the age of 9 Alicen was invited to participate in Special Olympics by her up coming 2nd grade teacher Mrs. Virgina McDaniel. Her parents graciously accepted the invitation for her to participate. Their hearts swelled with pride that first year as their daughter walked in her 25m race. Both of them remembering back to the day they where told she would never walk. Mom recalls very vividly the over sized t-shirt and tiny legs going as fast as they could possibly go. Alicen really had no idea the magnitude of what she had done as her first medal was placed around her neck. She did however know she had done something big. She had a new kind of confidence. A tiny athlete with the spirit of a giant had been born. Alicen would go on to join Karate with her brother where her love for sports grew. She eventually joined the local Special Olympic basketball team. Her love for sports became even greater after earning a gold medal at basketball.

About By Gina Warren:I am both a parent and a coach. Alicen is my daughter I am VERY proud of the athlete she has become. Thank you Special Olympics for the opportunity you have given my daughter. She has been able to help to bridge the gap that exist between the world of a typical high school athlete and that of a "Special Needs" athlete. I have included a link to our local news channel 13 story that was aired. The Orlando Sentinel also covered Ali's story the Friday of State games. While it has been amazing the support Alicen has received as she has accomplished an amazing goal. I couldn't help but stand in awe when I took the time to look into the stands at summer games as I thought to myself "look there are 1800 inspirational athletes who are being given the chance to be ATHLETES...again THANK YOU Special Olympics for ALL that you do.
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May 27, 2016 | North America: Bahamas

Special Olympics Bahamas Holds Bocce National Championships in Tarpum Bay, Eleuthera

By Gilbert Williams

Special Olympics Bahamas recently held Bocce National Championships in picturesque Tarpum Bay, Eleuthera and by all accounts, the tournament was a huge success.View Story Special Olympics Bahamas recently held its Bocce National Championships in picturesque Tarpum Bay, Eleuthera and by all accounts, the tournament was a huge success. Teams from the islands of Abaco, Eleuthera, Grand Bahama and New Providence all represented their respective programs and the athletes Thoroughly enjoyed themselves. "This was a tremendous show of support from the entire community of Eleuthera, unlike anything we've seen before" says National Director Gilbert Williams, "It looks like we may have found a permanent host site for this annual event" Eleuthera is the island home of the world famous Glass Window Bridge and also boasts as home to the world's sweetest pineapples. The tournament is expected to be a tremendous boost to the awareness factor of the Special Olympics program on the island of Eleuthera, and The Bahamas as a whole.

About Gilbert Williams:Became a volunteer soccer coach with Special Olympics Bahamas in 2010. Currently serve as National Director.
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May 13, 2016 | North America: Florida

Children's Center in Florida Gets Active

By Kory Blair

On Friday, April 29, more than 44 residents of Sabal Palms Children's Center, located at The Palms of Largo in Florida, participated in a Field Day Event.View Story On Friday, April 29, more than 44 residents of Sabal Palms Children's Center, located at The Palms of Largo in Florida, participated in a Field Day Event! They completed skill-based activities they had learned throughout the year through the Special Olympics Motor Activities Training Program and Young Athletes Program. Whereas most people are familiar with Special Olympics, MATP and Young Athletes are components of the program that are lesser known, but equally as important. Sabal Palms Children's Center is proud to be the only officially registered MATP program in Pinellas County and one of the only residential center-based programs throughout the state. The athletes have been working on skills taught through both curriculums on a weekly basis for the past year. The Field Day Event and Special Olympics MATP Challenge Day provided the perfect opportunity for the children to showcase their skill to their families and friends, as well as receive awards for their hard work. The event was made possible by Special Olympics Florida, Special Olympics Pinellas County, Sabal Palms Health Care Center and the 26 volunteers who attended the event, including a group of students from Lift You Academy Transition Program and eight staff members from Optum.

About Kory Blair:Kory Blair is a CTRS, and Director of Life Enrichment at Sabal Palms Children's Center. She has been coaching Special Olympics for over 15 years.
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