Special Olympics Research

Evaluation of the Special Olympics Europe/Eurasia Unified Football Pilot-Project: Findings from Austria, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia

Consisting of surveys given to athletes, partners, coaches and family members from 65 inclusive football teams from the five countries, this research was designed to provide an evaluation of the Europe/Eurasia Special Olympics Get into It (SOGII)/Unified Football pilot project. The SOGII/Unified Football pilot project brought together athletes and partners to train and compete as equals on the football field. Before joining the Unified Sports teams, partners received classroom instruction about intellectual disabilities through the SOGII curriculum. 

Although each Unified Football program is unique with regard to the level of inclusion in each country and with regard to scope and size of project implementation, the goals of the SOGII/Unified football pilot project remain consistent, to promote the social inclusion of students with intellectual disabilities and increase youth involvement in Unified football programs. Likewise, results vary from country to country, particularly in impact on partners' attitudes, but on average, those involved report that the initiative had a powerful, positive effect. 

In addition to improving self-esteem and attitudes towards those with intellectual disabilities, the program often increases social inclusion away from the football field. A strong majority of athletes report engaging in social activities with other players outside of competition and practices. While it was more likely that these interactions include other athletes, they also often included the entire team and/or partners. This is significant because it shows that athletes with intellectual disabilities do not simply interact with each other, they also interact with youth without intellectual disabilities. These findings are particularly dramatic considering that in most of these countries there is no inclusion in academic settings and very few of the partners had previously even met anyone with an intellectual disability. 

The findings from this research suggest that Unified Sports provides a successful model for promoting social inclusion and changing attitudes. Unified football is an experience that allowed participants to learn new skills and have fun, achieve their own goals, contribute to their team's performance, learn about one another, and share social experiences.  


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