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Special Olympics Basketball: Olympic Basketball For All Levels Of Abilities

A Special Program for Athletes With Special Challenges


Updated October 01, 2011

Children, teens, and young men and women play recreational basketball across the country in intramurals, YMCA and Boys & Girls Club programs, city or town recreational programs, church leagues, and many other programs. Most of these programs are designed for players of average ability or those who just want to have fun and play the game.

What happens if you have a child who has a variety of special needs? Most of the above mentioned programs provide opportunities for children with special needs, but there is one that specializes in providing programs to serve people with special challenges or disabilities.

Special Olympics is a sports training and competition program for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Players from 8 years old and above can play (There is no upper age limit.) There are approximately 27 sports available and basketball is one of them. Players train and compete on local, state, regional, national, and world game levels. If you have a child with an intellectual disability, he/she can actually be a world class athlete at the World Special Olympics Games!

One thing that makes Special Olympics unique is how its teams are grouped to compete. Special Olympics believes in providing an even playing field for all teams so teams are grouped by their age, ability, and gender. This prevents high ability teams from playing far lower ability teams. This grouping is called divisioning. Divisioning is determined at qualifying events for state games where teams are ranked for their ability level, thus making state games evenly contested.

Special Olympics is also unique as a result of its philosophy. It is not a win at all costs program; rather it teaches that athletes should strive to accomplish their personal best and that makes them you a winner. Everyone wins in Special Olympics for attaining their personal best whether it is through winning a medal or ribbon. In reality crossing the finishing line and competing at your own highest level constitutes a victory.

Special Olympics athletes train for 6-8 weeks before their state competitions and their coaches are also trained and certified. These trainings present the most modern coaching techniques that can be used for any athlete with a focus on those with special intellectual challenges. Coaches who complete the certification process are prepared to coach at any level.

One program for the most basic skilled players is the Motor Activities Training Program which uses small balls, lower baskets, or just offers very basic motor skills activities that can lead to playing basketball in the future.

Unified Sports is a program for the highest skilled special athletes which joins players with and without intellectual challenges on integrated teams. The games in Unified Sports are very much like what you would find in your everyday recreation league. The range of these programs enables Special Olympics to include everyone!

To summarize, Special Olympics is characterized by:
•Having organized basketball practices and sports and physical training opportunities
•Certified basketball coaches
•Certified or trained officials
•Tournaments and games
•Divisioned Teams to level the playing field
•Modified equipment and rules when needed
•Olympic style competition
•A variety of competitive opportunities ranging from local events to World Games
•A philosophy that focuses on doing your personal best and also promotes physical fitness and good health
•A program that is for anyone 8 years old and above

Special Olympics epitomizes the true spirit of sports; that is competing with yourself to be the best you can be. Because of certified and trained staff, modified rules and equipment (when needed), and a world class program, everyone is a winner. If you have someone in your family who loves basketball (or other sports) and has an intellectual challenge, look up Special Olympics in your home town or call the International Organization at (919) 785-0699 and Catch the Spirit of Special Olympics!

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