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 12, 2014 | Asia Pacific: Australia

Smiling despite the storm

By jack mcneilly

On the 5th of December 2013 at the Asia Pacific games in Newcastle Australia took on the Philippines.It was a cracking game of football between 2 talented and committed teams.View Story On the 5th of December 2013 at the Asia Pacific games in Newcastle Australia took on the Philippines.It was a cracking game of football between 2 talented and committed teams. The end result was a 1-0 win to the Philippines. After the game I took the Australian players into our opponents rooms, I had good reason to do this. Barely 4 weeks prior to the game the Philippines experienced a natural disaster.Typhoon Haiyan, was one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded,it devastated portions of Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines, on November 8, 2013. It is the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record, killing at least 6,268 people in that country alone. Haiyan is also the strongest storm recorded at landfall, and unofficially the strongest typhoon ever recorded in terms of wind speed. Even four weeks after the Typhoon bodies were still being found. Despite their country being a disaster zone the Philippine players could still smile, clearly my proudest moment as a coach..

About jack mcneilly:Im jack McNeilly coach of the Australia 2 team who took part in the Asia Pacific Games in Newcastle. My football team took on the Philippines after the game i took my boys into the opposition rooms. I told my players about the big storm that had hit the Philippines 4 weeks earlier, we all agreed that we just had to wish them. I'm coaching the Victorian SO football team in October at the national games, I live in Wangaratta and have a wife and two children.
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June 02, 2014 | North America: Minnesota

Woodbury Blazing Stars Featured in Hockey Day Minnesota

By Erin Laurents

I want to share this great video of the Woodbury Blazing Stars. The team was featured during ‎Hockey Day Minnesota 2014.View Story I want to share this great video of the Woodbury Blazing Stars. The team was featured during ‎Hockey Day Minnesota 2014 when we invited the East Ridge Girls High School Hockey Team ‎to come and scrimmage our poly hockey teams. Fox Sports North was kind enough to film the ‎event as well as interview some of our athletes. Everyone had a fantastic time! Our athletes ‎enjoyed the opportunity to compete against East Ridge and to share their love of hockey with ‎them. Something that may not have been possible if not for Special Olympics! We are looking ‎forward to a rematch next year!‎‎

About Erin Laurents:I am the Head Coach of the Blazing Stars Special Olympics Team, which is located in ‎Woodbury, Minnesota. I have been with them for three years now and coach poly hockey, ‎softball, and basketball. I also play as a Unified Partner in Flag Football with them as well as ‎mentor two athletes who participate in the Athlete Leadership Programs.
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June 02, 2014 | North America: Arizona

Standing Ovation

By Brett Meiners

This photo was taken in Laughlin Nevada at an annual fundraiser for the City of Mesa Bulldogs. Will (left) is one of our athletes.

All of the athletes did amazing during the games. It was electric! I even lost my voice from all of the cheering.View Story I participated in my first State Games last November. The event was held at Vistal Golf Club in Phoenix, AZ. I have to give credit to Greg and Carol Leicht who spearheaded the event. Every detail was executed to the upmost perfection. The opening ceremony was huge. 400 athletes, coaches, parents, volunteers, police, fire, and other military personnel present. You can really feel the excitement during the opening ceremonies. All of the athletes did amazing during the games. It was electric! I even lost my voice from all of the cheering. On the final day of the State Games we were all eating dinner and hearing the awards being called. They asked the PGA Professionals to come onto the stage. We were presented with a plaque for the support and commitment to the growth of Special Olympics. We were surprised with a standing ovation from the crowd. The entire room was on their feet. I looked at all the athletes and parents and almost teared up. It was a very special moment for me.

About Brett Meiners:I am a PGA Golf Professional, City of Mesa Skills Coach, and Unified Partner in the East Valley Friendship League. I have been involved with Special Olympics for about 4 years in both Illinois and Arizona. I have a special place in my heart for every athlete, coach, volunteer, and parent that I have come in contact with. I've been wearing a SOAZ wristband to remind myself of the state games last year and how amazing it was. I have been inspired in so many ways and it's my personal goal to inspire someone and get them involved.
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May 27, 2014 | North America: Maryland

Winning without being able to see the finish line.

By Amie Dugan

Sometimes you can win without even being able to see the finish line. Jerry Gatton is a runner. He is determined and eager. In addition to having an intellectual disability, he was born blind.View Story Sometimes you can win without even being able to see the finish line. Jerry Gatton is a runner. He is determined and eager. In addition to having an intellectual disability, he was born blind. “I cannot see nothing at all,” said Jerry. “Everything is dark.” The voice he hears on the track is the steady cadence of his coach Dale Becker. He guides Jerry at practices and competitions. “Oh, I love Special Olympics,” Jerry told us. “I love it with all my heart.” On this steamy spring day, the sun beats down on the track. The sweat drips, but Jerry never quits. Watch this video and you'll see why Jerry is amazing and why the world needs more Jerry Gattons!

About Amie Dugan:Director, Marketing & Communications
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May 23, 2014 | Asia Pacific: Pakistan

Transforming Lives

By Lubna Nawaz

Haseeb with maam Ronak lakkani.

With the help of a Special Olympics volunteer in Pakistan, the mother of a boy with autism discovered how to make a closer bond at the same time he found growing confidence through a series of small successes.View Story This is the story of a 15-year-old boy with autism, Muhammad Haseeb Abbasi. Haseeb played bocce for Special Olympics in Pakistan. He represented Pakistan in the Special Olympics Asia Pacific Games in Australia in December 2013, where he won three gold medals. Haseeb was diagnosed with autism at the age of twelve years by Dr Catherine Aldred PhD. during our visit to to the United Kingdom. Prior to this all our efforts for the diagnosis of our children (we have two boys, and both of them are autistic) within Pakistan were in vain. Some of the symptoms were identifiable as early as 2 years and till 8 and half years, he was nonverbal. He attended a regular school till class 7 but the problem was his communication with the fellow students and teachers. He was noncommunicative, always wanted to sit alone in the class, never participated in any of the activities, obsessively lining up his toys in perfectly straight lines with no eye contact with anyone. And so things were becoming difficult not only for him but for me also. I feared that I may never have a close relationship with my son, I didn’t know how to reach him and at times I felt helpless. Autism was a new term for us in Pakistan, and we knew very little about it. Presently there are hardly any specialist services or schools available for autistic individuals. The majority of the parents therefore are on their own. Fortunately for me, with the help and motivation of a local Special Olympics coach, Mrs.Irfana Kayyani, I was introduced to the Special Olympics Pakistan Program. Now, I am a volunteer for Special Olympics Pakistan. Special Olympics has changed Haseeb completely. It has instilled in him a desire to improve, to listen and to learn. Each small success has built his self confidence. Yes, Special Olympics Pakistan has taught him a lot, much more than I can ever imagine for him. Haseeb has now transformed into a confident individual who can hold conversations with strangers.Special Olympics Pakistan is supported by an A Very Special Christmas grant.

About Lubna Nawaz:My name is Lubna Nawaz.  I am mother of Haseeb and now part of Family Support Network Special Olympics Pakistan.
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May 21, 2014 | North America: Jamaica

Jamaican Unified Floorball Team in Canada Championship

By Victor L. Brown Coordinator Floor Hockey and Floorball

Special Olympics Jamaica’s top international goal scorer, forward Orion McCaw, helped his team achieve a big first for Jamaica. The Maroons were the first Special Olympics team to compete in the Canada Cup Floorball Tournament.View Story Special Olympics Jamaica’s top international goal scorer, forward Orion McCaw, helped his team achieve a big first for Jamaica. The Maroons are the first Special Olympics team to compete in the annual Canada Cup Floorball Tournament in Toronto, which ended May 19. “It was a great experience for all of us, but as the one with previous overseas Floorball exposure I had to lead as much as possible to encourage the new ones," McCaw said. "We received many big ups from the fans saying how hard we worked.” The Maroons are a unified team made up of Special Olympics athletes and player partners from the community. Special Olympics Jamaica is also the first Special Olympics Program in North America to take up this fast-growing form of indoor hockey. The squad was captained by Sydney Manyan, who oversaw on-court play. He was joined by the following athletes with intellectual disabilities: Oshain Daley (goalkeeper), Kabious Smiley (defense); Omar Brown (defense); Kirk Dockery (forward); Andrew Hinds (forward) and forward Orion McCaw. The unified partners were: Peter Miller (defense); Christopher Palmer (forward), Stefan Richards (forward); Sanjay Buchanan (forward), Andre Fyffe (defense) Ricardo Frater (forward); Orseano Benjamin (defense). Jason Anderson Technical Director, Jamaica Floorball Association handled the coaching duties. In addition to the court play, veteran athlete Richard Oates attended the coaching clinic. Jason Johnson was our volunteer Statistician. The delegation was completed by Sharee Russell a Jamaica Floorball Association referee in training who has just returned from three months of practical on-court experience in Sweden. Although the squad lost its four games (6 to 3; 2 to 0; 3 to 2; 4 to 1), the reports coming back from the organizers and spectators are that the squad played very well and showed improvement. From Captain Sydney Manyan’s perspective: “Overall the squad played well together although adjustments will obviously have to be made to ensure that next time we capitalize on the opportunities we created in front of the net. We’ll need to make arrangements to have more access during the week to our training venue so we can focus on reducing our weaknesses”

About Victor L. Brown Coordinator Floor Hockey and Floorball:I've been with Special Olympics Jamaica for 18 years
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May 14, 2014 | North America: Rhode Island

Narragansett High School: Spread The Word To End The Word

By Abby Hummel

Our Banner after less then 24 hours being up in our school of 400 kids!

This is our first year EVER having a Unified Basketball Team at Narragansett High School in Rhode Island!View Story This is our first year EVER having a Unified Basketball Team at Narragansett High School in Rhode Island! Our school is small, just over 400 students, and our students are coming together to promote acceptance and inclusion starting on the basketball court and spreading it into the community and school. Along with their coaches, the team made this video to support the "spread the word to end the word" campaign that runs Nationally every March. We pledged, will you?

About Abby Hummel:Our team, school and community is so amazed of what our students are doing at our school! This is my first year coaching Unified Basketball and I couldn't be more proud of the start to our team.
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