Today, 25 September, Special Olympics recognizes and celebrates its coaches around the world for their efforts in teaching and encouraging athletes through sport and continuing to grow the movement of inclusion!
With over 10,000 Special Olympics (SO) events happening every year, coaches play a vital role in making these events possible so that millions of people with intellectual disabilities have access to the same sport opportunities as anyone else. Many Special Olympics athletes have very little to no training in a sport before competing in Special Olympics, and SO coaches volunteer their time and effort to help educate athletes, helping them feel confident while competing at the best of their capability. The bond and relationship built between a coach and their athlete(s) is like no other, and the trust resulting from this is revered by many SO athletes, their coach(es), teammates and fellow competitors.
Special Olympics athletes, coaches and staff from Special Olympics North America, Special Olympics Latin America and Special Olympics Asia Pacific weighed in on the importance of coaches, their roles, and coaching education for Special Olympics and its athletes.
Special Olympics Guatemala coach, renowned professional football (soccer) player and national team head coach, Maria Fernanda Rossell, shared her insights on what she has learned from her time as a coach with Special Olympics, “I´ve learned that we all are different, and we need to really know each other in order to work with the athletes, focusing more on their abilities than their disabilities.”
Rossell has extensive knowledge of football and has played and coached individuals from varying backgrounds and ability levels. She seamlessly moved into her role with SO a few years ago. She coached the SO Guatemala women’s team at the 2022 Unified Cup and the futsal team at the World Games Berlin 2023. Both teams won gold.
Rossell went on to comment, “Coaching in Special Olympics means that I have the knowledge to conduct thought-out training sessions and can give the athletes opportunities to compete in many sports. Also, I have to have a plan with some goals outlined and I need to work with my group depending on their necessities.” The athletes coached by Rossell are constantly being pushed to be their best in a healthy and collaborative way by a coach who understands the determination and physical demand of the sport.
For SO coaches, their impact off the field is just as important as their athletes performance on the field. Glenn Cundari, a coach with Special Olympics Canada, shares why he is a passionate coach with SO, “It means I am sharing joy and being in a competitive environment at the same time. Building stronger communities: one small interaction, one training session, one competition at a time… appreciating the life skills I learn every day from athletes and their families.”
For many coaches, the wellness of their athletes is the priority of their role. They, like Cundari, want to make sure that even after their athletes are done playing sports, that they are equipped with the social and life skills and tools they need to thrive. Special Olympics Canada powerlifter and pickleball athlete, Carly Tucker said Cundari and her other coaches are great at helping her and her teammates find a new perspective to a challenge and a way around it. The trust expressed by Tucker is a key part in what makes a SO coach so unique. Cundari values this collaborative environment as he says he learns just as much from working with his athletes as they do from him as their coach.
Special Olympics Pakistan’s table tennis athlete, Imtisham Danish, is going on his sixth year competing with Special Olympics. For the last 5 years, Danish has had the same coach helping him train and compete in table tennis and through those efforts, he was able to win a silver and bronze medal in table tennis at the Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023.
Danish commented on the bond he and his coach share and what he has been able to achieve with his help, “I would like to thank my coach for his efforts and dedication as these are the reasons I won one Silver and one Bronze medal in the Special Olympic World Summer Games held in Berlin.” He went on to say, “My coach has worked really hard and supported me throughout the training camps and off the field to improve my game and prepare me for competitions including the Special Olympics World Summer Games.”
Become a Coach
Training for World Games or any global competition is hard work and both a coach and athlete must dedicate time and resources to make it possible. The World Games in Berlin was the biggest SO event in 5 years. Athletes in 26 sports competed on the global stage thanks to the thousands of coaches who made it possible.
As important as it is to have a coach to look up to and learn from, it is also important to continue to educate themselves to progress as a coach. Football coach Ali Hussain from SO Pakistan has been a coach with Special Olympics for three years and has coached a variety of sports over that time. Hussain is incredibly dedicated to his role and has taken the time to use the resources available to him through SO to further his education and professional development. “When I joined, I started gaining exposure to different coaching and sporting platforms around the country and beyond. I got to meet senior experts in my field. The Coach Mentorship experience under the guidance of COACH+ and my SOP Coach Mentors was the next-level experience for me that helped me gain new insights into coaching,” said Hussain. He continued to express how being a coach for SO allows for opportunities for personal development, professional growth, socialization and expanding the network around him.
All these areas of growth are also what athletes seek and receive when competing in Special Olympics. The coaches of today are not only impacting their current athletes, but the next generation of Special Olympics athletes and coaches to come.
Part of what makes coaching with SO possible at a global level is the work and education provided by SO partners like Gallagher Insurance. Gallagher is the official sponsor of Special Olympics sport and coach programming, supporting the movement's mission to deliver the highest quality of coach training and sport experience to more than five million athletes in over 240 local programs across the globe. Their continued efforts will help to expand the movement’s footprint all around the world.
SO Pakistan’s National Sports Director, Farkhanda Jabeen, expressed how vital coach education is, “To achieve any sports-related or athlete-related goal, whether it is performance or improving quality, coaches are the cornerstones. Without coach development, even the athletes' journey to transformation could become stagnant. Investing in coach education and development creates a ripple effect as it fosters a growth mindset and a continuous learning culture for coaches and athletes both.”
The investment into coaches directly impacts athletes. The more effort and time a coach puts into their own abilities, the more an athlete is going to learn from them.