Special Olympics Research
A Comprehensive National Study of Special Olympics Programs in the United States
The purpose of this study was to document demographic
information about Special Olympics coaches and athletes in the
United States, explore athletes' motivations for participating in
and leaving Special Olympics Programs, and evaluate the impact
participation has on various aspects of athlete
The majority of athletes (74%) participate in training activities
and attend practice at least once a week. Many athletes (53%) also
engage in social activities with teammates outside of training and
competition several times a month. One-third of the athletes are
enrolled in regular public or private schools. For those athletes
over age 18, 28% are employed in sheltered workshops, and 24% are
employed in a business within the community.
Athletes, families and coaches agree that the typical athlete
participates in Special Olympics for enjoyment, social aspects and
competition. These reasons were consistent for both active and
inactive athletes, suggesting universality in athletes' reasons for
participating in Special Olympics. The main reasons for an athlete
to leave Special Olympics were system issues (i.e., programs ending
after graduation from school) and loss of interest.
Consistency of responses between coaches and families of active and
inactive athletes suggests that their perceptions about goals for
participation and improvement on these goals are representative of
all U.S. Special Olympics participants. Families and coaches see
marked improvement in all of the goals that they set for their
athletes, particularly in the areas of self-esteem and
self-confidence, and these improvements were seen across the
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