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Core Functions: Sports Activities
Special Olympics’ primary goal is to provide high-quality year-round training and competition opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities directed by qualified coaches. Through sports, our athletes become confident and empowered by their accomplishments. There is a range of Olympic-style winter and summer sports to suit every age or skill level. To get the athletes ready for training and competition, a Local Club needs to:

STEPS 1 – 4


Ensure athletes, unified partners & volunteers are REGISTERED in accordance with the National/State Program registration procedures.


SELECT SPORTS for training & competition based on athlete preferences.

STEP 3: Volunteer Management

RECRUIT AND EDUCATE coaches and volunteers.


Provide frequent opportunities to TRAIN AND COMPETE.

Important Reminders for Step 2:

Special Olympics club may determine the sport(s) they will offer in conjunction with the National/State Program. The club should consider a number of factors when selecting a sport, such as: access to appropriate VENUES and FACILITIES, EQUIPMENT, qualified COACHES and competition pathways.

For sports information, coaching guides and other related resources.

Step 4: Sports Training & Competition

The core Club activity: regular (at least twice a week) training opportunities for athletes in the chosen sport(s). Training in the sport should include fitness and education on nutrition.

Competition: The Club should focus on providing athletes with regular competition opportunities. This may include official Special Olympics competitions as well as less formal competitions with local clubs and intra-club competitions within the Club community.

Minimum requirements for athletes to take part in competition:
  • Athletes, Unified partners, and volunteers must be REGISTERED in accordance with National/State Program procedures.
  • Athletes must undergo REGULAR TRAINING conducted by qualified coaches.
  • Athletes must COMPETE REGULARLY.
Note that some competitions will have additional entry requirements (e.g., within an advancement cycle)
If a club forms part of a mainstream sports club, it’s important to ensure inclusion of athletes in the training activities. Discuss in advance the schedule for Special Olympics practices and explore opportunities for Unified activities. Similarly, if your club takes part in mainstream sport competitions, ensure meaningful inclusion of athletes and application of SO sport rules.

Running Quality Sports Events

Games and competitions drive the Special Olympics movement forward. Every day, all around the world, athletes and coaches are training for their next competition. Providing quality experiences for everyone is important to achieving success. Quality events mean that athletes have enjoyed themselves and feel included in the activities that have been held.

There are 4 levels of events within Special Olympics. By participating in a competition at one level, athletes earn the right to be considered for advancement to higher levels of competition.

1: International • Regional • Sub Regional • National

Contact National/State Program to learn about competition opportunities and schedules.

2: Regional

Contact National/State Program to learn about competition opportunities and schedules.

3: Sub Program

Sports competitions are organized for athletes within a geographic region/sub-region. Could be a single sport/single-day or multi-sport and multi-day event.

4: Local

Clubs are responsible for the planning and delivery of local events or setting-up a league. Engaging with sport leagues offers additional sport and training opportunities for athletes and helps build inclusive communities.


Special Olympics International has developed SPORTS RULES for each official sport to govern competitions conducted at any level. ARTICLE 1 of the Sports Rules is another essential resource. It includes information about the code of conduct, training standards, medical and safety requirements, divisioning (when athletes are grouped according to age, gender and ability level), awards, criteria for advancement to higher levels of competition, and other important information.

Sport Rules Article 1

The Official Special Olympics Sport Rules (“Sport Rules”) provide standards for Special Olympics training and competition. Sport Rules Article I provides general principles established by the Special Olympics Official General Rules (“General Rules”) that are not found in the sport-specific rules.

Sports Rules by Sport

For all of our recognized and official sports, find coaching guides, development models, photos and videos and other related materials. You can also find information on locally popular sports in the mix.

When organizing local events or setting-up a league, make sure it follows Special Olympics official sports rules.

Running Quality Sports Events

Local level competitions usually take place on a single day. Strong planning involves considering the big picture of what you want to achieve at the event and then focusing on the key aspects that will support a quality event within your budget:



Venues and sports equipment are secured, meal options decided on and secured, signage developed.


Participants are invited and communicated in the lead up to the event.


Health and safety plans have been established and distributed to participants. A walk through of the venue has been done in advance to consider any risks.


Sports officials and volunteers have been secured prior to the event and all sports and technical equipment has been sourced and tested.
  • Engage other clubs in the area to make for a more dynamic event.
  • Make sure you follow Special Olympics official sports rules in organizing and running local events and competitions.


Competition draw has been done in advance; competition schedule developed.


Award ceremony conducted to celebrate everyone’s success. It is recommended that every participating athletes is awarded ribbon/certificate.


After the event follow up with a thank you to the volunteers and participants and ask for their feedback to improve the next event. Provide the feedback to volunteers and officials.
Sports Activities
  • Fitness
    People with ID face fitness challenges (obesity, high blood pressure, low cardiovascular endurance) that affect their sports performance and overall wellbeing. Regular sports training with fitness elements will improve their health, sport performance and prepare them for competition.
Fitness Challenges and People with ID