For Special Olympics Montana coach Kimberley Farley, Special Olympics has always been a huge part of her life. Getting started with the movement 30 years ago after fostering a young man with intellectual disabilities, she has been a certified coach since 2006, with swimming being her favorite sport. But the connection to Special Olympics is even deeper for Farley, thanks to her daughter. “My daughter was born in 1986 with Down Syndrome and I knew as she grew that Special Olympics would become an important part of our lives,” she says.
It’s clear that the organization's impact on Farley is so strong, it has allowed her to impact more than those close to her. She was nominated for Special Olympics North America’s Outstanding Coach award. She says it’s an “overwhelming feeling to think that I could have been considered for an award like this.”
“It's such an honor to be recognized for simply doing something you love to do,” she continues. “Special Olympics is such an integral part of my life. I am very honored and very humbled by this nomination, and thankful to the incredible volunteers and staff in Montana that I am blessed to work with.”
Farley’s coaching philosophy is simple; create a fun and safe environment for athletes to grow as athletes and individuals. She makes sure everyone is involved and that it’s a space where each athlete can achieve their own personal best. “I set realistic goals for each athlete, for every practice, and have learned that athletes experience joy when they are challenged and goals are achieved,” she says.
Making sure she gets the best from each athlete, she makes it a priority to challenge each athlete during practice. She focuses on “core skills before advancing their knowledge and awareness, practice game situations, and revisiting rules at every practice.”
Oftentimes in sports, the overall goal gets lost when the sole focus is on winning, however, for Farley the objective is quite clear. “I incorporate team building into every practice and allow the athletes time for sharing encouragement and support with one another,” Farley says. “I ALWAYS end practice on a positive note and give the athletes something good to take with them.”
For example, a typical basketball practice usually runs an hour and a half, starting with 15 minutes for a light jog and team stretch, followed by 15 minutes of drilling. Then, like how many sports practices run, the team breaks off into small groups with individual coaching in specific skill sets, followed by a scrimmage and a cool down. Her assistant coaches are heavily involved. Farley makes sure to allow time for the other coaches to get their comments in and then they end with a team huddle.
And while Farley makes an impact at practice, it also carries over into the community.
“We have seen inclusion change our community in so many incredible ways,” Farley says. “At every high school sporting event, there are cheerleaders with disabilities supporting their schools and cheering beside their peers without disabilities. Because of organizations promoting and supporting inclusion, companies are looking for ways to employ individuals with disabilities and recognize their value and worth in our community. There are more clubs in our public schools to foster inclusion and even public service clubs for individuals with disabilities.”
When she isn’t coaching, she serves as a mentor for their local Athlete Leadership Program for the Yellowstone Valley Area. She helps find opportunities for athletes to get involved in the community.
Special Olympics has shaped the life Farley lives and she tries to pass that forward to everyone she comes to meet throughout the movement. “It has inspired me to want to do more and to be a better person,” she says. “It makes me want to give back. I have formed so many close relationships with athletes and other volunteers and stay involved in the athletes' lives outside of Special Olympics. They bring so much joy to my life.”
And her advice to other coaches wanting to get involved with Special Olympics is simple: “Set your expectations high - they will ALWAYS surprise you.”