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 well being.
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 different sports.