Section K:
Unified Programs

Unified Programs integrate athletes with and without intellectual disabilities in training and competition programs as well as social activities. There are three Unified Programs to choose from:

Unified Recreation Unified Player Development Unified Sports®
Unified Recreation consists of recreational sport-related enrichment opportunities for promoting social inclusion and increasing sports skills and knowledge, which takes place in schools, the community and private or public organizations. Unified Player Development refers to the level in which players of higher ability assist teammates in developing sports skills and tactics, and in successfully participating in a team environment. Unified Sports® is a program that combines Special Olympics athletes and athletes without intellectual disabilities (Partners) on sports teams for training and competition. All players on a Unified Sports team must have attained the requisite sports skills and play without modifi cation from the current Special Olympics Official Rules.

As an inclusive program, there must be a proportionate number of athletes without disabilities represented on all Unifi ed Sports® teams.

Statement of Fair Play: Fair Play is designed to optimize participation by all team members (athletes and partners) based on the principle that every player should contribute to the success of the team. To ensure Fair Play, all team members must have the requisite sports skills. Teams should not include players who dominate play, exclude other teammates from contributing to the success of the team, or present a health and safety risk on the fi eld of play. By permitting any team member to dominate play, the result is reduced opportunities and limited roles for other team members. This violates the spirit and intent of the Unifi ed Sports® rules and philosophy, and will be addressed according to the standards set forth by each sport's rules and governing ordinances.

Activities:
  • Intramurals
  • Open Gym/Field
  • Skills/Play Days
  • Camps
  • Club Activities - Meet in the Middle
  • Young Athletes
Activities:
  • Intramurals/League Play
  • Open Gym/Field
  • Skills/Play Days
  • Camps
  • Club Activities - Meet in the Middle
  • Competitions - Local
Activities:
  • League
  • Club Activities - Meet in the Middle (coaches need to be certified)
  • Competitions - Area/State
Coach Certification Requirement:

Coaches are not required to be certified.

Coach Certification Requirement:

Coaches will receive modified training. Can take Unified Sports Coach Training online.

Coach Certification Requirement:

Unified Sports coaches certification is required as well as Unified Sports Coach Certification.

Counting Criteria

Coaches should list the athletes on a roster and turn the information into their area office. Athletes can be tracked as Athletes in Training (AITs).

Counting Criteria
  • Coaches should list the athletes on a roster and turn the information into their area office.
  • Competition may take place at the local level, and may be counted as a local competition if a database is put into GMS. If no database is available, athletes can be counted as AITs.
Counting Criteria
  • Athletes are competing at a sanctioned local or area competition. Entries should come in on the SOTX entry form and information is placed in GMS.
  • Partners need a Class A Volunteer Form, Criminal Background Check, General Orientation, Unified Sports Partner Application Form and Protective Behaviors to go on to an area, state, national, regional or world level competition.
Recognition/Awards

Participation recognition such as a certificate would be appropriate.

Recognition/Awards

Participation recognition such as a certificate or award (provided by SOTX).

Recognition/Awards

Participation will be awarded Unified Sports medals based on place of finish.

Level of Competition

Local only

Level of Competition

Local only

Level of Competition

Local, area, state, national, regional, world

Additional Unified Activities

  • Partners Clubs
  • Sports Partnerships
  • Project UNIFY - Meet in the Middle (MiM)

Refer to Project UNIFY - Meet in the Middle (Section J) for more information.

Unified Programs benefit every participant because they:

  • Integrate athletes with and without intellectual disabilities in trainings and competition.
  • Prepare athletes with higher skill level for participation in school and community sports, though it is not exclusive to athletes of higher ability levels. Athletes of all ability levels are eligible to participate in Unified Programs.
  • Increase the reputation of Special Olympics programs and make the public aware of the skills of athletes.
  • Enable Special Olympics families to participate as team members and coaches on Unified Programs teams.
  • Build friendships and understanding between athletes with and without intellectual disabilities.

Starting A Unified Program

For more information, please contact your area office.

Organizing Participation For Unified Program Models

Unified Recreation:

  • Select the sport you will implement.
  • Determine the target group for team members.
  • Develop a plan to inform schools, agencies or community centers about who may participate.
  • Identify eligible people with and without intellectual disabilities to play on Unified teams.
  • Set minimum standards for participation on the team.
  • Develop sport-specific skills and knowledge.
  • Provide guidance and assistance to the team throughout the season.
  • Provide inclusive sport activities emphasizing recreation and social inclusion.
  • Share successful models with other programs.
  • Evaluate the program.
  • Congratulate the efforts of the team and coaches.

Unified Player Development:

In addition to the information above, the following information is required for the Unified Player Development:

  • Recruit and train coaches.
  • Successful participation in a team environment.
  • Individual player and team skill development.
  • Continue emphasis on social inclusion.

Unified Sports:

It is the goal of Unified Sports to integrate into community leagues those athletes with intellectual disabilities who, because of their higher skill level, are ready to move themselves from traditional Special Olympics teams into mainstream athletic programs. Involvement improves skills, self-esteem and self-image for athletes of all ability levels.

In addition to the information listed in Unified Recreation and Unified Player Development, the following information is required for the Unified Sports:

  • In order to participate in Unified Sports, team(s) must join an existing delegation or create a new delegation.
  • Prepare and distribute practice and competition schedules.
  • Hold a team organization meeting.
  • Get team uniforms.
  • Ensure that Special Olympics competition opportunities exist beyond the local level.
  • Each Unified Sports partner must be a registered SOTX volunteer (must have a current Class A Volunteer Application on file renewed every three years), must have attended General Orientation and Protective Behaviors (in person or online), and must have passed the criminal background check as well as must have Unified Sports Partner Form on file. This form only needs to be resubmitted or updated if any contact or insurance information changes regarding the partners. NOTE: Minor Unified Sports partners (17 years old or younger) are required to submit a Class A Minor Reference Form, instead of the requirement to pass the criminal background check.
  • Head coaches must be “dual certified” – trained in the sport and trained in Unified Sports. Training includes a four hour sport-specific training school and a two hour Unified Sports certification training.
  • Coaches should use the player skills assessment tests in their Unified Sports team selection process for softball, volleyball, basketball, flag football and soccer. These Team Evaluation Questionnaires can be found in the List of Forms Section of the SIG.
  • Unified Sports player ratios must remain throughout the competition.
  • In team sports and racquet sports, athletes and partners should be of similar ages and abilities.
  • Players injured or disqualified may influence a team’s line up. If there are no athletes or Unified Sports partners to replace their respective teammate, a team can play shorthanded if allowed by the specific sport’s rules. Special Olympics athletes may not substitute for partners, nor can partners substitute for Special Olympics athletes.
  • A head of delegation can only compete as a Unified partner within their own delegation when their team is active in that area or chapter competition. When a delegation is inactive (not competing in any sport at the area or chapter competition), the head of delegation may choose to volunteer and train as a Unified partner with a delegation other than their own.
  • Individual sports: AQ, AT, BC, BO, CY, EQ, FS, GF, KY, PL, RS, SA, TT, TN, TR. Unified Sports coaches are allowed to participate in a relay or as a doubles or team player as long as they have a certified bench coach. The bench coach must be certified in the sport. The bench coach is responsible for the conduct of the team.
  • Team sports: BB, FF, SC, SB, VB. Unified Sports coaches are allowed to play on Unified Sports teams as long as they have a dual-certified bench coach. The dual-certified bench coach must be certified in the sport and in Unified Sports. The bench coach is responsible for the line-up and conduct of the team. The bench coach cannot be listed as a player for that game, and he/she cannot enter the game as a player.
  • A Unified Sports coach should provide every athlete and Unified partner with an opportunity to participate in training and competition events which challenge each to his or her fullest potential regardless of their ability level.
  • In the case of team sports, the Unified Sports coach should provide every athlete and Unified partner with an opportunity to play in every game.
  • Unified Sports Code of Conduct must be signed by the coach and be included with competition entry forms.

Monitor(s) Responsibilities

Pre-Tournament Responsibilities

  • Pre-event communication.
  • Conducts Unified Sports coaches breakout meeting.
  • Orients certified official and key volunteers of Unified Sports rules modifications

Pre-Game Responsibilities

  • Meets with both certified bench coaches and presiding officials prior to the coin toss start of each competition.

Responsibilities During Game/Competition

  • Serves as a resource to on-field officials, but does not interrupt flow of play.
  • Monitors competition to ensure that Unified Sports rules and philosophies are being enforced – checking with scorekeeper when necessary.
  • Communicates with certified official at appropriate breaks in play or when approached by officials.

Post-Game Responsibilities

  • Debriefs game with officials.

Official(s)

Pre-Tournament Responsibilities

  • Gets Unified Sports training in advance when possible or pre-game at minimum.
  • Attends Unified Sports coaches breakout meeting.

Pre-Game Responsibilities

  • Meets with both bench coaches and Unified Sports monitor(s) prior to coin toss start of each competition.

Responsibilities During Game/Competition

  • Serves as on-field rules authority.
  • Makes all judgment calls regarding dominance on the field.
  • Confers with Unified Sports monitor(s) when necessary.
  • Communicates with coaches regarding Unified Sports rules interpretations and consequences during a game.

Post-Game Responsibilities

  • Debriefs game with Unified Sports monitor(s).

Score Keeper(s)

Pre-Game Responsibilities

  • Meets with Unified Sports monitor(s) to be clear on Unified rules/responsibilities.
  • Reviews rosters/lineups to ensure that they are correct.

Responsibilities During Game/Competition

  • Maintains rosters and scoring throughout the game and is a resource of information for officials and Unified Sports monitor(s).
  • Informs officials immediately if the ratio is not maintained.

Post-Game Responsibilities

  • Be available if needed for debriefing.

Divisioning Unified Sports

Competition Awards Guidelines Regarding Crossover Division with Traditional Teams

Unified Sports Teams in Traditional Divisions

  • Due to their ability level or a significant safety risk (sometimes due to age), there will be times that a Unified Sports team will not fit appropriately in a Unified Sports division.
  • A competition director has discretion to provide Unified Sports teams with competition against other traditional Special Olympics teams when, as an only option for safe and/or appropriate competition, there is nothing available in the Unified Sports division.
  • Should this take place, the Unified Sports team shall not affect the record or advancement of the other traditional teams in that division.
  • The games are officiated under the traditional sports rules, but Unified Sports teams must maintain their lineups to reflect Unified Sports rules.
  • The Unified Sports team(s) that compete in traditional divisions shall be awarded separately, thus not affecting the awards outcome of their traditional opponents.

Traditional Teams in Unified Sports Divisions

  • There are also times when a traditional team will be placed in a Unified Sports division due to their ability level, safety risk or significant age difference with other traditional teams, but this usually occurs when there are one or two traditional teams that are significantly higher in ability than the rest of the teams in the competition.
  • A competition director has discretion to provide traditional teams with competition against other Unified Sports teams when, as an only option for safe and/or appropriate competition, there is nothing available in the traditional divisions.
  • Should this take place, the traditional team shall not affect the record or advancement of the other Unified Sports teams in that division. The games are officiated under the rules of Unified Sports where applicable. Traditional teams must maintain their lineups to reflect the traditional sport rules.
  • The traditional team(s) that compete in Unified Sports divisions shall be awarded separately, thus not affecting the awards outcome of their Unified Sports opponents.