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Community Impact

Special Olympics Coaches Pave the Way for Women in Football With the Help of Nike

“I am convinced that sport and participation is a motivation for improvement and true inclusion in the society of athletes” - Iveny Smara Reyes Puente (Special Olympics Chile)
athlete smiling holding medal next to teammate
Special Olympics Kenya footballers at Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023

The work sport has done and continues to do for Special Olympics athletes to promote development and peace all over the world is helping to further inclusive communities for people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD).

Over the past nine months, Nike sponsored a Coach+ initiative called the Nike Unified Football Leagues Development project, providing coaches with additional training and growth opportunities. Additionally, the project sought to provide more leadership opportunities for women in the form of coaching—with this, these coaches were empowered to be role models, educate themselves and progress in their abilities and skills.

329 coaches participated in instruction designed to better include girls and women, with and without intellectual disability, to participate in football (soccer). 5 of the coaches who participated are part of Special Olympics: Susan David (Special Olympics Namibia), Marijana Obradovic (Special Olympics Serbia), Iveny Smara Reyes Puente (Special Olympics Chile), Jerussa Kangwana (Special Olympics Kenya) and María Fernanda Rossell (Special Olympics Guatemala).

Woman standing in front of people sitting on bench
Maria Fernanda Rossell coaching at Unified Cup

“I continue to coach because I want to see fellow young females to be inspired and join the world of sport.”
Susan David, Special Olympics Namibia


The Nike project provided the tools, guidelines, educational resources and platform for the coaches to learn from one another’s experiences. Through Nike’s funding of the project, participants received personalized feedback and had the opportunity to learn from coaching professionals who addressed areas of success and improvement when trying to make various drills and training more inclusive for athletes. One important lesson was understanding how impactful a coach’s guidance can be on the outcome of a sporting event, player or game. “I believe continuous learning is key to staying updated with the latest coaching techniques, strategies, and inclusive practices and since I recently just joined coaching there is so much to learn” voiced Susan Davis.

The participants, supported by Nike project facilitator Coach+, were able to engage a team of experienced coach developers with rich knowledge of coaching. These developers assisted in guiding the coaches in creating sustainable training education programs, resources and learning opportunities, which will not only benefit the cohort of coaches involved in this project, but also those who join the program in the future.

athletes in matching training kits at practice
Special Olympics Kenya footballers at training session

Breaking Down Boundaries

The expert knowledge of Coach+ will help to break down gender and social stereotypes women in sport continue to face today. An article from iSportConnect states, “Changing cultural attitudes towards gender roles and stereotypes have contributed to the acceptance and normalization of women’s participation in sports. Efforts to challenge traditional notions of femininity, promote diversity and inclusion, and celebrate athleticism in all its forms have created more supportive environments for girls and women to participate in sports and pursue their athletic aspirations.” With the increased education and awareness newly gained by David, Obradovic, Puente, Kangwana and Rossell, these coaches can now relate to and accomplish more together as they work to grow the sport of football in each of their respective Regions.

“I want to see these female athletes achieve their goals and expose their talent. I also want the community to accept athletes fully.”
Jerussa Kangwana, Special Olympics Kenya

Social Impact

For Special Olympics athletes, skills learned from their respective coaches are carried over into their daily lives including interactions with friends, families, at work and in other settings. The influence of a Special Olympics coach goes beyond trainings and competitions. Without their continued efforts to develop athletes on and off the field, Special Olympics would not be able to achieve all that it has in the realm of inclusion thus far.

Not every footballer or football team wants to compete at the highest or most competitive levels, but there are reasons athletes continue to return to practice and compete week-after-week. A good coach can set up a training environment, a great coach makes that environment fun, drills exciting, learning new skills a desired achievement and so much more. Coaches support Special Olympics Programs around the world by knowing their athletes, their abilities and their goals. Personal knowledge allows the coach to understand the desires of each athlete and help them create a training regimen that enables the athlete to work towards achieving that goal.

“The most important thing in this work is to know each athlete, to know their limitations, to know their skills and to always remember that each one is unique. Because sometimes, the mistake that a coach often makes, is to consider everyone as the same,” shared María Fernanda Rossell (Special Olympics Guatemala)

Group of girls and coach with all hands in standing in a circle.

Support and Growth

After the Nike Coaching project concluded, the coaches were excited to implement what they had learned into their local Programs. David shared, “The experience instilled in me a profound understanding of inclusive coaching methodologies, honing my ability to adapt training sessions for athletes with diverse abilities. Overall, the Nike project has not only boosted my confidence as a coach but has also equipped me with a versatile set of skills, positioning me well for coaching endeavors in the future with a strong emphasis on inclusivity and community building.”

Special Olympics Kenya’s Jerussa Kangwana was already able to implement what she learned even before the project was over by getting more athletes to join her local Special Olympics football team. “I am now ready to coach Special Olympics athletes. I will be courageous, and I will help them to discover their own strengths and abilities and encourage them build upon those strengths and improve day by day.”

Through Coach+ and the support of Nike, these five Special Olympics coaches, plus the other 324 participants, now have a better mindset, skillset and leadership abilities when coaching their athletes. The remarkable impact the coaches will collectively have on thousands of athletes around the world will be undeniable. Additionally, the Nike project has provided countless opportunities for girls and women to take part in football trainings and competitions, benefitting their health, fitness, social lives and all-around wellbeing. The tireless efforts of coaches remain at the heart of Special Olympics’ success and making sure our athletes are able to do, and be, anything they dream of.

“I will take with me the importance of team participation, the importance of regular trainings, and the importance of educating young female athletes about the significance of taking part in sports and looking after their health. Their equal inclusion in all aspects of society and their exchanges with athletes without ID is also a very important part of what I will be continuing to work on.”
Marijana Obradovic, Special Olympics Serbia

Special Olympics coaches bios

Coach Iveny Smara Reyes Puente, Special Olympics Chile
Special Olympics Chile’s Iveny Smara Reyes Puente has been a coach with Special Olympics for 25 years. She works in the commune of Llay-llay at the Brillo de Luna Special Education School where she helps prepare athletes seeking to participate in Special Olympics National Games. “I am convinced that sport and the participation in sport is motivation for the improvement of true inclusion in society for all athletes,” Puente shared. She was also a coach for Special Olympics Chile’s Unified futsal team at Special Olympics World Games in Berlin.

Coach Iveny Smara Reyes Puente, Special Olympics Chile
It was Susan David’s (SO Namibia) role volunteering as manager of a local female football club that sparked her interest in becoming a Special Olympics coach. She had the opportunity to watch the Special Olympics Namibia football team in training and from there, she started her online training courses with Special Olympics. This demonstrated her commitment to enhancing her coaching skills. David represented Special Olympics Namibia at the 2023 Global Youth Leadership Summit in Berlin, Germany.

Coach Jerussa Kangwana. Special Olympics Kenya
Jerussa Kangwana (SO Kenya) started her Special Olympics coaching career when she noticed a lack of inclusion in her local community for people with IDD. Over the last four years she has been working with SO Kenya footballers while also undergoing coach training with SO Kenya. Kangwana believes in her athletes’ abilities and knows that with further inclusion and continued education for people in their community, her athletes will be able to walk in the community and the world more confidently.  

Coach Marijana Obradovic, Special Olympics Serbia
Marijana Obradovic (SO Serbia) started coaching with Special Olympics through the special education school she worked and saw how much of an impact she could have on the lives of the children she taught. Obradovic spoke of how, as a teacher and coach, she was able to identify valuable skills within her athletes that would help them in the classroom and on the field. “It has helped me better understand children with disabilities, their worries and dilemmas about their disability and the difficulties they experience every day.”

Coach María Fernanda Rossell, Special Olympics Guatemala
María Fernanda Rossell (SO Guatemala) is a former professional and international football player who in her first international competition with SO, coached her team to a first place finish at the 2022 Unified Cup in Detroit, Michigan. The following year, Rossell helped coach the SO Guatemala futsal team to a gold medal at the Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023. Rossell has been an advocate for Special Olympics athletes worldwide as she continues to incorporate her extensive knowledge of football from her own experiences playing and wants to use the information learned through the Nike project to build a more inclusive playing environment.

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