Young Athletes is an innovative sports/play program designed to introduce children with intellectual disabilities to the world of sports at an early age (2½ to 7). Young Athletes was initiated at the request of parents who wanted a program for younger children with intellectual disabilities, prior to the start of their eligibility for Special Olympics. The program was created to promote motor, social, and cognitive development in children through physical activity and play.
By examining Young Athletes programs in several countries (Azerbaijan, Chile, Israel, Panama, Paraguay, Romania, United States and Venezuela), the research provides a comprehensive, global look at the program and evaluation of its effectiveness. It accomplishes this by using several methodologies including registration forms, surveys, site visits, and parent interviews.
Findings indicate that Young Athletes has a significant impact on both the young people who participate and their parents, sometimes in unintended ways. Though the primary focus of the program is motor skills development, teachers and parents who were interviewed repeatedly note that benefits extend to area like improved self-esteem and attention span. As an additional benefit, parents gain increased awareness of their children's abilities, learn new effective methods for engaging with their children, and receive support from others who are struggling with the same issues.
The research report also includes recommendations for improving the program in each location.