Changing Lives through Sport -- A Report Card on the Impact of Special Olympics

Jan 1, 2005
Special Olympics has published the results of a multi-legged study of the impact of Special Olympics programs on the lives of its athletes in the United States. According to Changing Lives through Sport -- A Report Card on the Impact of Special Olympics, the benefits of participation in Special Olympics are substantial. The research shows that there is an overwhelming consensus among Special Olympics athletes, coaches and family members that there is significant improvement in athletes' sense of self, social skills and social interactions due to their participation in Special Olympics. In addition, parents also see health benefits that are critical, given the unmet health needs of people with intellectual disabilities. The evidence from these studies clearly illustrates that Special Olympics enables people with intellectual disabilities to demonstrate and experience sports competence and suggests that gains in self-confidence, self-esteem, employment and socialization can carry beyond Special Olympics. For example, more than half (52 percent) of adult Special Olympics athletes have jobs. While reliable data about the employment status of the general population of adults with intellectual disabilities are hard to come by, values as low as 10 percent have been cited. This suggests a strong relationship between Special Olympics participation and the ability to be employed. The new research also shows that Special Olympics athletes have much in common with other athletes. For example, Special Olympics athletes enjoy the social experiences that accompany participation in sports training and competition. Teammates provide an important and valuable source of friendship, with more than half of the athletes socializing with teammates outside of Special Olympics. As with other athletes, Special Olympics athletes are motivated to participate by their enjoyment of sports and by the competition Special Olympics provides. They are serious about their sports and are not seeking sympathy or even special treatment. Overall, the rationales for participation are similar to other athletes at various levels and in various programs. Even those who leave Special Olympics due to life changes overwhelmingly express their satisfaction with their Special Olympics experience and would be willing to reestablish their participation if circumstances permitted. The study is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the impact of the Special Olympics experience on the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. More than 2,000 interviews of a representative sampling of U.S. athletes, coaches and families members were conducted over a period of four months starting in October 2004. The study was carried out by the University of Massachusetts Boston and the University of Utah with support from the Gallup Organization. Dr. Gary Siperstein and Coreen Harada from the University of Massachusetts Boston and Dr. Michael Hardman and Jayne Maguire from the University of Utah served as investigators.
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