The fundamental difference between Special Olympics competitions and those of other sports organizations is that athletes of all ability levels are encouraged to participate, and every athlete is recognized for his/her performance. Competitions are structured so that athletes compete with other athletes of similar ability in equitable divisions.

Divisioning Resources

Divisioning in Special Olympics Sports

Historically, Special Olympics has suggested that all divisions be created so that the variance between the highest and lowest scores within that division does not differ by more than 15 percent. This 15 percent statement is not a rule but should be used as a guideline for establishing equitable divisions when the number of athletes competing is appropriate. 

Responsibilities of the Athletes

As we mentioned earlier, sportsmanship is important in developing a well-rounded athlete. Athletes are expected to follow the Special Olympics Official Sport Rules and the Athlete's Code of Conduct. Athletes who break the rules may be disqualified from further participation.

Athletes are also expected to give maximum effort when competing. This is the only way the divisioning process can work as it was intended. Athletes who do not participate honestly and with maximum effort in all preliminary trials and/or finals violate the true spirit of competition and may even be disqualified from competition. 

Responsibilities of the Coach

Coaches have an important role in an athlete's life. Next to family members, coaches interact more with athletes than anyone. In many instances, coaches become like family. Therefore, coaches must place the health and safety of Special Olympics athletes above all else. They too must follow the Official Sport Rules and the Coaches Code of Conduct.

Coaches are also critical in helping competition management teams make divisioning work. Divisioning works best when coaches submit preliminary scores. This helps athletes get into the proper division as well as gain additional competition experience. 

How Divisioning is Implemented

An athlete's ability is the primary factor in divisioning Special Olympics competitions. The ability of an athlete or team is determined by an entry score from a prior competition or the result of a seeding round or preliminary event at the competition itself. Other factors that are significant in establishing competitive divisions are age and sex.

Ideally, competition is enhanced when each division accommodates 3-8 competitors or teams of similar ability. In some cases, the number of athletes or teams within a competition will be insufficient to achieve this goal. The following describes the sequential process for creating equitable divisions. 

Your Donation Matters

Special Olympics transforms athletes’ lives through the joy of sport. Help us make a difference.


Volunteer Near You

Volunteering with Special Olympics is fun and very rewarding, for both the athlete and the volunteer!


Follow Us

"Events" is a top search term for SO.org. Add your own events.

Events »

Find events near you and learn about volunteer opportunities at one of our 220 worldwide locations. 


Videos and Photos

DifferentBarry Cairns tells what it's like to be a Special Olympics athlete.Watch Video »

Videos and Photos

SpeechlessSpecial Olympics changed her life in deep and meaningful ways.Watch Video »

Videos and Photos

Summer GamesAround the world, months of practice are paying off.See Slideshow »

Videos and Photos

Photos on FBSee photos and comments from our supporters around the world.See Photos »

Videos and Photos

Hope in HaitiLeo and Gedeon play in makeshift fields, tent towns, wherever they can.Watch Video »

Videos and Photos

Finding His VoiceDavid Egan has always dreamed big. Now look at him!Learn More »

Videos and Photos

Sport Teaches UsOur life-changing work is fueled by the power of sport.Watch Video »

Videos and Photos

Making SuccessDoctors said Lani is “never going to achieve anything.” Learn More »

Videos and Photos

Very Very SpecialMusic helps Special Olympics make an impact worldwide.See Slideshow »

Videos and Photos

Around The WorldGreat photos of Special Olympics events and people.See Slideshow »

Videos and Photos

Focus on ChangeWhat we do can't be done without our partners.See Slideshow »

Videos and Photos

Power of SportsSports are a powerful way to change our athlete’s lives.See Slideshow »

Videos and Photos

What We DoSports, health, education, community and more.See Slideshow »

Videos and Photos

Who We AreWe are athletes, families, celebs, volunteers and more.See Slideshow »

Videos and Photos

Summer SportsOur athletes run, jump, swim and score in summer.See Slideshow »

Videos and Photos

Playing UnifiedUnified Sports reveals strengths in every team member.Watch Video »

Videos and Photos

Healthier AthletesOur free health clinics are making a huge difference.Watch Video »

Videos and Photos

Deon NamisebHe's a speaker and role model. It didn't start that way in Namibia.Learn More »

Special Olympics Blog

Health Needs Need Closer Examination

"You can't compete if your feet hurt, if your teeth hurt or if your ears ache."read more »

Posted on 2014-04-07 by Ryan

go to blog »


Special Olympics - Become a Fan

Donate Now Donate Now