In 2022, high quality Unified Sports training and competition is more important than ever. After two years of isolation and stagnation due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, it is time to re-build Unified Sports programming. The participation of Unified athletes and partners engaged in Special Olympics programmes across the world decreased by a shocking 36% in 2020 compared to 2019. We are expecting a similar or even lower level of engagement in 2021 and therefore it is essential that people are reengaged or the gaps are filled with new, motivated people.
This applies to all level of engagement and competition. However it applies in particular to the qualification rounds for the Unified Sports competition at the 2023 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Berlin which are about to kick-off. Once qualified, the teams need to get ready for this important event both physically and in terms of team building and generating spirit of the inclusion. All teams will need the support of certified coaches to lead them on this journey, but unfortunately the pandemic has resulted in a drop in Unified coaches globally. The 2020 census showed that there was a drop of 50% worldwide in coaches (both certified Unified coaches and traditional coaches). Sadly, we expect similar developments from 2021 census due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic. There is a huge amount of catching up to do to prepare and participate at a high quality competition with a cohesive Unified Sports team.
Unified Sports is built on the concept of connecting people with and without intellectual disabilities on the sports field. The goal is to provide a positive high quality inclusive sporting experience that translates from the sports field into community life. However, over the past two years, instead of connecting, people were forced to isolate. Unfortunately, bonds created over many years through Unified Sports between players with and without intellectual disabilities have been damaged or even cut off.
This is the perfect time to launch and share the new Special Olympics Unified Sports® educational video which was made possible thanks to support from Toyota and Lions Clubs International Foundation. While (re)building Unified Sports teams it´s essential to “get it right from the start, and this video will support us in this. In particular, coaches can use the video to drive motivation for and understanding of Unified Sports. This applies to new coaches as well as established coaches who may want a refresher while getting ready to kick-off regular in-person training and competition again.
Apart from coaches, we want to address as many people as possible easily accessible channels such as social media and websites. We want to show that Unified Sports is great, it´s fun, it´s relevant and it´s easy!
The video is a short and simple tool highlighting the key principles of Unified Sports through an animation, using accessible language style with a minimum of text in English. It is easy to translate into different languages. Viewers will only need to take a few minutes to watch, listen and learn. It can be seen in one piece in about 4 minutes or in 4 short pieces of about 1 min each. Feedback from various programmes shows that it translates well in a wide range of countries and cultures, for people representing various abilities, ages and a diverse level of knowledge of Special Olympics and Unified Sports.
Viorel Mocanu, Sports Director with Special Olympics Romania, believes that animation is the perfect way to convey Unified Sports. He says, “I think that animations allow the viewer to follow more closely the ideas and the complex concepts of Unified Sports. The explanation is better and clearer than if the video had been made using footage from real activities. Congratulations from a sportsman's soul!”
The animation has also been enthusiastically welcomed by athletes across the movement. Rayan Mehio, Athlete and Youth Leader, Special Olympics Cyprus, notes, “I like this Unified Sports video because it explains clearly what Unified Sports is about. Furthermore, I find it unique as it is perfectly organized into 3 main categories which help the viewer understand better what Unified Sports is and its purpose. What's different about this video is that it is animated which I really like. It makes the viewer more attracted to the video and has a clearer understanding.”
The video has already reached over 5,000 people with over 360 engagements on Facebook alone. Coaches across the movement are encouraged to view and share the full video which can also be viewed on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0KiZm3KDgY.
This video was made possible thanks to the support of Toyota and Lions Clubs International Foundation.