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


February 02, 2016 | North America: North Carolina

"A Few of Their Favorite Things" - An Austrian Adventure

By Megan O'Donnell

Rory Kinane and Tappie Dellinger proud to represent the USA at Pre-Games 2016 in Austria Jan. 10-15.

“U-S-A, The United States of America” bellowed over the loud speaker as Special Olympics North Carolina athlete Rory Kinane and his ice skating coach Tappie Dellinger of Charlotte marched into a packed Opening Ceremonies arena in Austria Jan. 10-15 at Pre-Games 2016; a test event for the 2017 SpeciaView Story “U-S-A, The United States of America,” bellowed over the loud speaker as Special Olympics North Carolina athlete Rory Kinane and his figure skating coach Tappie Dellinger of Charlotte marched into a packed Opening Ceremonies arena in Austria in January at Pre-Games 2016, a test event for the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games. “The roar of the crowd took our breath away! I got goosebumps and still do just thinking about it,” recalled Dellinger. “There is no greater feeling than being part of the USA delegation and it is a blessing knowing that I am coaching and helping athletes fulfill their dreams. They all worked so hard and are so dedicated to their sport!”

About Megan O'Donnell:VP of Communications for Special Olympics NC and have known Tappie and Rory for a long time. So excited they had such a great time in Austria! Can't wait to see who NC will send to Austria for the World Games in 2017.
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January 12, 2016 | North America: Illinois

Bonding over Sports

By Kish Pisani

EJ Vaughn and Louis Pisani share a love of sports and the same birthday

A Special Olympics volunteer took a new student with special needs under his wing and welcomed him to his new high school.View Story Louis Pisani is a senior at Naperville North High School in Illinois. When his family moved back to Naperville his freshman year after living in Quebec for 4 years, Louis, who lives with autism, intellectual disabilities and selective mutism, didn't know anyone at his new school. An honor student, 3 sport varsity athlete and all around good kid named EJ Vaughn took Louis under his wings and became his best friend. Through the years EJ has volunteered in his school's Special Olympics program and helped Pisani's family start an organization for athletes with special needs serving as a coach and Unified Peer Partner for the team's first Unified Soccer season. It was more than a coincidence when the two athletes realized they shared the same birthday and were born within an hour of each other.

About Kish Pisani:I'm a mom, advocate, coach and president of DuPage Valley Special Athletes, a volunteer-run organization for athletes with special needs in suburban Chicago.
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January 11, 2016 | North America: Canada: British Columbia

Special Olympics North America 2015 Coach of the Year Named

By Amie Dugan

Special Olympics British Columbia coach Tom Norton

Special Olympics British Columbia coach Tom Norton has been named Special Olympics North America’s 2015 Coach of the Year!View Story Special Olympics British Columbia coach Tom Norton has been named Special Olympics North America’s 2015 Coach of the Year! The Special Olympics North America Coach of the Year Award is given annually to a Special Olympics coach who has made a significant and demonstrable impact on local Special Olympics Programs and their communities. Norton, who has been a volunteer Special Olympics British Columbia – Abbotsford coach for the last 10 years, truly embodies Special Olympics’ commitment to providing every athlete with the quality coaching they deserve. Norton has been involved in Special Olympics for more than 25 years, first as a member of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics and for the last 10 years as an Special Olympics British Columbia coach. He has been an outstanding coach at the local level, as a member of nine regional and provincial teams (for both Special Olympics and mainstream Games) and two Special Olympics national teams (in 2011 and 2015), and as a local training coach for athletes going to Special Olympics Provincial and National Games. As a coach who specializes in track and field and also helps athletes achieve excellence in speed skating and overall fitness and health, Norton sets annual performance goals, has designed individual training programs for each athlete, provides multiple training opportunities each week, and coordinates multiple competitions throughout the season to enable his athletes to further hone their skills. Norton was presented with the Special Olympics North America Coach of the Year award in a surprise ceremony on January 9 at an Special Olympics British Columbia Athletics Performance Camp. Norton said it was “absolutely overwhelming” to win the Special Olympics North America award.

About Amie Dugan:North America Director of Marketing and Communications
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August 11, 2015 | North America: Southern California

Learning From Coaching

By Frank Casias

I have been coaching bowling Special Olympics Bowling for the past 3 years. This past spring I stepped forward and began coaching a basketball team.View Story I have been coaching bowling Special Olympics Bowling for the past 3 years. This past spring I stepped forward and began coaching a basketball team. Our team went to the Southern California Summer Games earned a Bronze medal(s). I was teaching them the skills and they were teaching me to me more understanding of their desires. My own son has been in Special Olympics for several years now, He competed in Basketball and Bowling, This past spring/summer he competed in 4 track and field events. He is an inspiration to the other players. He is always helping them out whenever their feel down. Ever since he was 7 year old we have had a different insight into the 'special' children and , now, adults. It makes my heart feel 'GOOD'.

About Frank Casias:I'm retired now, and spend my 'spare' time working with youth and the disadvantaged. Ever since I was involved with the U.S. Jaycees, I was involved with 'projects' that were aimed at helping the underprivledge. After there I went to re-paying what I was taught in Boy Scouts and became a Scoutmaster. Since involved with the Scouting program. But I've added Special Olympics to my agenda. Watching my son during his first year and stepping forward to become a coach for Bowling and now I'm coach a team for basketball, that practice at Pierce Jr. College.
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August 01, 2015 | North America: Southern California

David vs Goliath

By Frank Casias

This photo is Cayman Island(David) vs Great Britain(Goliath). It's all about heart or the 'attempt'.

As I watched a soccer game between Cayman Islands and great Britain I notice that there was a size mis-match between one of the Cayman Island athletes and his England counterpart. He became an instant celebrity.View Story As I watched a soccer game between Cayman Islands and Great Britain I notice that there was a size mis-match between one of the Cayman Island athletes and his England counterpart. He became an instant celebrity. The fans started cheering for the 'little fellow'. Some of us thought it was funny and a few of agreed that he had heart. The brit's were helpful in not blasting the score too high. I enjoyed this game, even in the heat.

About Frank Casias:I am a coach for Special Olympics Southern California, in basketball. We practice out of Pierce College. In the winter I coach Bowling at Matador Lanes. My son has ADHD, he has played basketball, as a center. This past spring he competed in track and field event. HE excelled in the shot putt, and the 4 x 400 relays. I enjoy teach/coach the athletes, it helps them and it helps me become a better human being.
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July 23, 2015 | North America: Florida

"He can't help it coach, he was born like that..."

By Joe Burley

Those were the sage words of wisdom were confided to me by a 40-year-old gentleman with Down syndrome who was a member of my Special Olympics team after witnessing another 8-year-old athlete eat his lunch when not supervised.View Story Those were the sage words of wisdom were confided to me by a 40-year-old gentleman with Down syndrome who was a member of my Special Olympics team after witnessing another 8-year-old athlete eat his lunch when not supervised. Though I anticipated an emotional outburst from my athlete as a result of his lost, beloved hamburger, I received this wonderfully enlightened and compassionate perspective of the needs and challenges of a younger peer. I was blessed to work with adults and children with disabilities in adult day training and residential settings. I cannot minimize the impact these men and women had on myself and my family in addition the life long friendships I acquired. I applaud the "R-word campaign" because contrary to the belief that people with the abilities are the ones in need, it is time to understand that the community around them needs to grow as well

About Joe Burley:I am currently the Athletic Director and Middle School History teacher at Florida Prep Academy. Previously, I worked for twenty years with adults and children with disabilities.
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June 30, 2015 | North America: Wisconsin

That "R" Word...

By Celese Dodge

This is my daughter Jennifer with her team mates at Regional Competition for Track & Field

I grew up with working with challenged children while in grade school and even though it was the "normal" thing to call challenged persons "retarded", I never liked it and would even fight with others who called my fellow classmates 'retarded".View Story I grew up with working with challenged children while in grade school and even though it was the "normal" thing to call challenged persons "retarded", I never liked it and would even fight with others who called my fellow classmates 'retarded". Then I volunteered with challenged chidren in a hospital/home situation and became an even bigger advocate for hating that "R" word. Now I have a challenged daughter that is 38 years old and have fought to get rid of that word all her life. Then I started volunteering with the Special Olympics and have fought more to get rid of that word. I have always hated it and always will. I always correct people and tell them not the r word but challenged or special needs but never the r word please.

About Celese Dodge:I am a 59 year old mother of an awesome challenged adult that is the love my life and in the Special Olympics of Wisconsin. Because of her I became involved in the Special Olympics, became a coach.
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