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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.

Become a Coach

To become a coach, get in touch with Special Olympics near you.

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.

We partner with sports organizations to provide the highest and most up-to-date level of coaching knowledge. 

Coaching education helps our coaches recognize each athlete’s potential. It also comes into play as we increase training and competition. Those opportunities help each athlete can reach -- or exceed -- their personal best.

Special Olympics focuses on our athletes. 

Our coaches aim high and take pride in their athletes' achievements, which can often be life-changing moments. 


Stories About Our Coaches


June 13, 2018 | North America: Pennsylvania

Special Olympics Athletes race in Broad Street Run

By Tim Damiani, Coach Bucks County

A day after Sectionals at Kutztown 8 athletes from Bucks and Montgomery Counties raced with 40,000 runners in Broad Street Run the largest 10 mile race in the country.View Story A day after Sectionals at Kutztown 8 athletes from Bucks and Montgomery Counties raced with 40,000 runners in Broad Street Run the largest 10 mile race in the country. Representing SOPA were Chris Griffith at 1:13:23, Erik Griffith at 1:18:54, Karl Dickersbach at 1:19:40, Harrison Bell at 1:22:38, Dominique O'hanlon with a 1:28:13, AJ Mucklow at 1:34:34, Billy Rigefsky at 1:41:24, and Nic Canup at 1:44:36. To coach these athletes the fundamentals of running only goes so far, but these exceptional runners have fortitude courage and most importantly heart which is the example everyone should follow. I am extremely proud of these athletes for their continued love of the sport and spirit of running.

About Tim Damiani, Coach Bucks County:Coach athletics Unified Partner Ldr
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June 05, 2018 | North America: Texas

A Life Time Devoted to Special Olympics

By Shirley L. Johnson

In 1968, I was asked if I wanted to chaperon 4 girls to the first Special Olympics World Games. I said I would be delighted. My favorite saying is "Special Olympics is very Contagious. Go to one event and you are hooked on it."View Story In 1968, I was asked if I wanted to chaperon 4 girls to the first Special Olympics World Games. I said I would be delighted. My favorite saying is "Special Olympics is very Contagious. Go to one event and you are hooked on it." From the first World Games I have devoted my life to Special Olympics and I will until God calls me home. I coach 8 Sports, I am the secretary on all the Games Committees, I belong to the Law Enforcement Torch Run and I am on the President's Advisory Board for the State of Texas.  Mrs. Shriver had an "Impossible Dream" that one day the Intellectual Disabled would be treated the same as normal people. Through Special Olympics this dream of Mrs. Shriver's is becoming true today. I can remember her wonderful words of encouragement to the athletes that day in 1968. At that time no one ever believed that the Intellectually Disabled would go as far as they have today. I just wish God would give me 50 more years to devote to Special Olympics.

About Shirley L. Johnson:I am an 83 years old widow. I have a Masters Degree in Special Education and I taught the Intellectually Disabled for 35 years. I have devoted my entire life for 50 years to Special Olympics. I have foster son who is 55 years old and is Intellectually Disabled. I play in all the sports I coach with my athletes. I always say Special Olympics keeps you healthy.
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March 28, 2018 | Asia Pacific: Bharat (India)

Love SOB

By Sunil Kumar

Special Olympics is doing great job. I love Special Olympics Bharat.View Story Special Olympics is doing great job.I love Special Olympics Bharat.

About Sunil Kumar:I am working with Special Olympics Bharat from 2011. I attended as volunteer then I did Diploma in Special Olympics and now I am working as a coach and still I am learning from it.
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March 26, 2018 | North America: South Dakota

Finding a community

By Kayla Patenode

I adopted my son Beckham from Bulgaria when he was 4 1/2 years old. He was born with agenesis of the corpus callosum (missing the middle part of his brain), along with other neuro issues. He has a hard time socially since he doesn’t recognize social or facial cues. My husband Lance and I decided to gView Story I adopted my son Beckham from Bulgaria when he was 4 1/2 years old. He was born with agenesis of the corpus callosum (missing the middle part of his brain), along with other neuro issues. He has a hard time socially since he doesn’t recognize social or facial cues. My husband Lance and I decided to get involved with Special Olympics, so we could see if it’s something we wanted our son to do when he turns 8. We have made so many amazing connections and relationships through coaching. We have been able to see what Beckham's future will look like. He will belong, have friends, and have self confidence. All things we weren’t sure he would have before we found this amazing community of people. With Beckham having 5 siblings that all do sports, I’m so extremely thankful that he will also have something that he takes pride in doing.

About Kayla Patenode:I am a mother to 6 kids. I have a heart for special needs adoption.
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March 26, 2018 | North America: Kentucky

"Special"

By Collin Hockenbury

The Louisville Flyers soccer team at Eastern Kentucky University, competing in the SOKY State Tournament.

Before I got involved, I thought the "Special" in Special Olympics was a synonym. Just a nicer way of saying disabled, handicapped, or different. Then I got out my old cleats to help coach the Louisville Flyers soccer team. I was treated to lots of cool little moments. Like our star player paView Story Before I got involved, I thought the "Special" in Special Olympics was a synonym. Just a nicer way of saying disabled, handicapped, or different.Then I got out my old cleats to help coach the Louisville Flyers soccer team. I was treated to lots of cool little moments. Like our star player passing up goals to get his teammates involved. Or our head coach huddling us up after we got a big halftime lead, and telling the players to play with grace. Or our right fullback asking me if I wanted to come to the fair with him and his parents after our game. Or standing on a perfectly manicured field at Eastern Kentucky University and seeing hundreds of athletes smiling and competing. Then lining up for a group picture and hearing our players clamor for their friend from another team to hop in.The admins, the coaches, and especially the athletes in this community are unassuming, inclusive, gentle, and kind. That's a special combination of traits. Special. Take the word at face value.

About Collin Hockenbury:Collin is a copywriter living in his hometown of Louisville, KY. He played soccer for Denison University and coaches the Louisville Flyers. For a longer version of the article, visit his blog at collinhockenbury.space.
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March 12, 2018 | North America: New Jersey

Why I pledge to never say the r word

By Jodi DiClaudio

I have a cousin with Down syndrome, and I have learning disabilities and being in resources rooms, I was teased a lot growing up. I always hated the r word; it makes me cringe when people say it. Now having a special needs autistic child myself, I would hate someone to say this to him.View Story I have a cousin with Down syndrome, and I have learning disabilities and being in resources rooms, I was teased a lot growing up. I always hated the r word; it makes me cringe when people say it. Now having a special needs autistic child myself, I would hate someone to say this to him. It is so offensive to everyone. They shouldn’t be able to call anyone that word, and I know people who say it often around me. I cringe and walk away. There are so many other words you could use than that word. People can be so ignorant. They don’t know my story or my families, but you shouldn’t say it period!

About Jodi DiClaudio :I am 45 year old female daycare teacher. I also volunteer for many Special Olympics programs and my son is a Special Olympics NJ ATHLETE. This year I will be a coach with his team!
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March 09, 2018 | North America: Michigan

The Heart of a Special Olympic Athlete

By Debra VanTol

A tragedy occurred for a Special Olympians family, a house fire totally destroyed their home. Awareness of the tragic event spread like wildfire within the Special Olympic community and into the area community. All hands were on deck to help the family. This awesome family walks the talk by helpinView Story A tragedy occurred for a Special Olympians family, a house fire totally destroyed their home. Awareness of the tragic event spread like wildfire within the Special Olympics community and into the area community. All hands were on deck to help the family. This awesome family walks the talk by helping and coaching in the Special Olympics community and beyond. They are loved. Of course the event was heard by other Special Olympians also. Touched by the understanding of the loss coupled with a big heart for her friend, another Special Olympian realized that all Special Olympics medals and ribbons were lost in the fire. Upon return to school, an envelope was given to the fire struck athlete by her friend. Carefully placed with a note of sympathy was a Special Olympics Blue Ribbon. Special Olympics builds friendships in a very special way.

About Debra VanTol:Special Olympics has been a part of my life for the last 9 years. A late in life career change to a Special Education teacher brought me to the area Special Olympics community. This special community is awesome! Athletes, coaches, parents and care givers alike work together, sharing a common bond, helping the disabled become the best they can be. In the beginning, support for cycling, swimming, and cross country skiing teams was given in the way of a support coach. Soon after it developed into lead coach. Often people express the great amount of skill and understanding it takes to work with this population. The return comment is, "It is very easy and rewarding to work with Special Olympians. I get more than they give...and they give a lot!"
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