Rules and Competition
The Purpose of Special Olympics Sports Rules
All Special Olympics competition shall be conducted in accordance with Official Special Olympics Inc. (SOI) Sports Rules, which are designed to protect the athletes, provide fair and equitable conditions of competition, and promote uniformity so that no competitor shall obtain an unfair advantage over another. To further this goal, Special Olympics, Inc. classifies sports included in the program as either official sports or demonstration sports, and prescribes the sports rules which govern international, national, regional, chapter, area and local levels of competition. All coaches and interested volunteers should obtain a copy of the Official Special Olympics Inc. Sports Rules through the SOI website at specialolympics.org/sports.aspx or the Special Olympics Texas Coaches Resources page.
General Competition Information
All athletes must be provided with an opportunity to compete in either one local competition or two scrimmages in preparation for participating in an area competition.
Due to safety risks, athletes using wheelchairs are prohibited from competing in the following team competitions: basketball, flag football, golf, soccer, softball and volleyball. Athletes using wheelchairs may compete in these sport’s Individual Skills contests should they meet the performance requirements. Motor Activities Training Program (MATP) opportunities are available as well (see Section F).
No team shall be able to change its roster by adding new competitors after the first game, round or when the preliminary round is completed. This rule applies to all sports.
No physical contact by a family member, coach or volunteer is allowed in Individual Skills competition. Verbal cueing is allowed, but no physical contact will be permitted.
For all team competitions in which there are individual skills, SOTX will require a minimum of eight participants to offer the skills event at Chapter Games. This will be determined at the time entries are due at the Chapter office.
CoachesSection V. Sports rules can be downloaded from http://www.sotx.org/get-involved/coaches/resources-and-rules/.
A team evaluation questionnaire must be turned in with the area, regional and chapter entries for all Special Olympics teams, including all Unified Sports® teams (basketball, flag football, soccer, softball and volleyball).
At all Special Olympics Texas events, athletes' and coaches' footwear must be appropriate for the sport involved to maintain safety, comfort and athletic appearance as determined by the games committee.
Delegations must participate in their area for local and area competitions. Delegations wishing to compete in another area/chapter's event can do so provided they have completed the following four steps:
- Do not bypass an event that is offered by their own area and/or chapter.
- Are granted permission from their program/area director.
- Have certified coaches in the sport in which they wish to participate.
- Notify the Director of Competition and Games of their intent to compete.
Delegations are encouraged to document all four steps and to maintain those records.
In keeping with the Special Olympics philosophy that every athlete should be encouraged to perform to the best of his or her ability, athletes are placed in competition divisions according to the following guidelines:
- A division shall consist of a minimum of three and maximum of eight competitors or teams. If there are not at least three competitors or teams in a division, divisions shall be combined to meet the required minimum number of competitors or teams, but only if the sport specifically allows coed events.Athletes shall be divided into competition divisions based on their gender, ability and age.
- Competition divisions shall be established so that they are even. An even division is one in which all participants, based on performance records, have a reasonable chance to win. This definition also applies to team competitions.
- In structuring even divisions, participants shall be ranked in descending order of performance. The difference in times or performance scores between the best athlete and the worst athlete shall not normally differ by more than 10 percent. This rule is known as the “10 percent rule” or the "10 percent differential."
- In team sports competition, the team evaluation questionnaire (TEQ) scores and the possibility of a classification round shall be used to determine ability divisions. The 10 percent rule shall apply to these divisions.
- A classification round involves teams competing in a short version of the official team sport. Classification round pairings are determined by the team skills scores submitted on the Team Evaluation Questionnaire (TEQ) with the registration forms for the event.
- In gymnastics, figure skating, roller skating, diving and equestrian events, all of which require judging, the 10 percent rule is not appropriate for use in divisioning. Nevertheless, athletes shall be placed in even divisions based upon performance capabilities.
A protest must be submitted to the Sports Rules Committee no later than 30 minutes after the completion of the division of the event being protested. A protest can be submitted only for violation of rules, not for judgment calls made by an official(s). The protest form is located here (http://www.sotx.org/get-involved/sig/forms/sotx_protest_form.pdf) and will be available onsite at the venue. Ask your Games Director for a copy.
Prohibitive sports and events are activities which the Special Olympics Sports Medical Committee has determined do not meet the minimum health and safety standards of Special Olympics, Inc. These sports and events shall be prohibited from all Special Olympics programs. Prohibited sports shall not be a part of any Special Olympics competition, training program, clinic, etc. The following sports and events shall be prohibited from Special Olympics:
- Sports: boxing, wrestling, trampoline, shooting, karate (martial arts), fencing, American football, rugby, Nordic jumping
- Athletics events: discus, hammer throw, pole vault
- Aquatics events: 3 meter platform diving
National Governing Bodies
The addresses and phone numbers of the national governing bodies for each sport are listed in this guide. All coaches, officials and volunteers are encouraged to purchase sports rule books from the national governing bodies of the sports in which they are involved. A complete listing of the SOTX Sports Menu is available in Section O.
Special Olympics Age Groups
- Special Olympics age groups have been selected as being the most representative of those used in sports competitions internationally.
- The following age groups shall be used for all Special Olympics games and competitions:
Individual Sports Team Sports Youth: Ages 8 - 11 Junior: Ages 8 - 15 Junior: Ages 12 - 15 Senior: Ages 16 - 21 Senior: Ages 16 - 21 Master: Ages 22 years and over Master: Ages 22 - 29 Sr. Master: Ages 30 years and over
Open age group: This age group is reserved for combining age groups to ensure equal competition and/or meet the rule of having a minimum number of competitors in each division. The open age group is strongly recommended for use in competition where only a small group of participants are entered.
- The athlete’s age group is determined by the athlete’s age on the opening date of the games or competition.
- In situations where there are not enough competitors to hold a competition in a certain age group, the athletes should be moved into the next oldest age group. In the event that there are not enough athletes within the masters age group to hold a competition, the athletes within the masters age group shall be moved to the open age group.
- The masters or senior masters age group may be subdivided into two equal groups if there is a sufficient number of athletes to organize equal divisions.
Special Olympics Texas believes in offering as many competition opportunities as possible. While not every athlete can advance to the Summer Games, Fall Classic or Winter Games, they should be afforded every means possible to compete locally. Special Olympics Texas has approved the following procedures to help meet the needs of the athletes while providing additional local competition opportunities:
- The application to host a local competition or event must be submitted to the area office, one month prior to competition. Entry forms or a database must be turned in to the area office within 15 days after the competition. Fill out the Application to Host a Local Competition or Event in the Rules and Competition section.
- Games and Competition Directors: The Sports Management Team strongly recommends that a volunteer cannot be a games or competition director in a competition which they are coaching an athlete or team. However, if circumstances dictate that a coach or volunteer be a games or competition director, they would be removed from any decision affecting the sport in which their athlete or team is competing.
- In all sports, a coach will provide the opportunity for athletes to compete in either one local competition or two scrimmages against individuals outside their own team prior to area or regional competition. The team(s) they compete against may be composed of individuals with or without intellectual disabilities, as well as Unified Sports® teams (school intramural teams, church, civic or scout group scrimmages, etc.).
- It is the responsibility of the program/area director to ensure that the organization and quality of local events are of acceptable standards, and that dates, times and locations do not conflict with any other scheduled event. The program/area director may or may not approve and sanction the proposed local competition. If the request is not approved, then the name Special Olympics may not be used and the local competition is not recognized as an official event that is covered by Special Olympics Texas rules, policies or insurance.
Local Competition Requirements
An application to host a local competition or event must be turned in one month prior to the competition and entry forms or a database must be turned in no later than 15 days after completion. If no request is turned in, and/or is not approved, the name Special Olympics may not be used and the local competition is not recognized as an official event that is covered by Special Olympics Texas rules, policies or insurance.
- Must include the Athlete Oath.
- Must include a parade of athletes (some sort of acknowledgement of teams participating).
- Must declare the competition open.
- Can include National Anthem.
- Should include greetings from the organizing committee.
- Can include brief greetings from local dignitaries.
- Local level competition may range from one day to two days.
- Outside agency funding and in-kind donations may be pursued as coordinated with the area office.
- Can provide meals/snacks/refreshments.
- Must use qualified officials.
- Divisioning must be done in accordance to SOTX policy and development stage of the sport.
- Must follow Special Olympics Texas official rules.
- Must use proper sport equipment.
- Must submit an official set of entry forms or a database to the area office within 15 days of competition.
- Can have a coaches meeting prior to start of competition.
- Must recruit sufficient volunteers to ensure the smooth operation of the competition.
- Must develop and distribute:
- registration information.
- competition schedule.
- use of the GMS System on site (if available).
- Must ensure facility is adequate to provide a safe competitive environment.
- Can do thank you announcements.
- Can have a dinner and dance.
- Can have a wrap up with the committee.
- Minimum Requirements
- Divisioning must be done in accordance to SOTX policy and development.
- Must follow Special Olympics Texas official rules.
- Must use proper sport equipment.
- Must ensure facility is adequate to provide a safe competitive environment.
In order to increase the number of sports available in smaller areas, enhance the quality of competition and provide cooperative regional efforts, the following guidelines are recommended for the minimum number of teams or participants required for an area to conduct its own separate area event or tournament:
- Softball – 12 teams
- Volleyball – 10 teams
- Basketball – 16 teams
- Aquatics – 90 participants
- Gymnastics – 30 participants
(Numbers per sport are subject to change)
Voluntary compliance with the minimum standards established will continue. No sanctions will be taken for areas not meeting these standards.
The Chapter Sports Management Team will monitor efforts made by areas to meet these standards and evaluate the validity of these numbers relative to providing quality competition. The number of participants required will be reviewed and is subject to change. If an area is unable to attain the specified numbers per sport, an area may:
- Conduct the event within their own area boundaries, inviting an adequate number of participants from one or all areas in their region to participate.
- Conduct the event within their area boundaries as a local event with less than the recommended numbers. However, participants who want to qualify for chapter competitions must still compete in a sanctioned area event.
- Send their area participants to another area’s event within the region.
- Host the event for one or all of the areas within the region.
Program/area directors within a region will work cooperatively to ensure that all the athletes within the region have the opportunity for fair and equal competition in the sport(s) of their choice, and that no one area or city is required to host an excessive or unfair number of events. Areas which encounter difficulty achieving the recommended numbers should contact the chapter office for assistance. Areas which do not host the sanctioned area event in a sport will still ensure that at least one local competition is available in that sport within their area. No area will discontinue any event or sport even if the number of recommended participants is not readily available. Area programs will enhance the quality of existing events by including more participants and providing additional competition opportunities through cooperative ventures with other areas.
Regional competitions will qualify participants for chapter competition if an area does not offer competition in a sport at the area level. A regional competition may not be substituted as the qualifier for chapter if an area competition is offered. Participation in regional competition is encouraged, in this case, as an additional competition for the participants, but will not be considered a qualifier for chapter competition.
National Invitational Tournaments (NITs)
Participants (including Athletes, Unified Athletes and teams that wish to compete in an invitational must have participated in the most recent chapter competition for that sport or be registered for the upcoming Chapter competition. Athletes must have a correct, complete and current Athlete Enrollment/Medical Release Form on file in the area office within established deadlines and which stays current through the last day of the NIT. Coaches must be certified in the sport and must be up-to-date on all Class A volunteer requirements and required sports certifications. Unified Partners must be certified as Unified Partners, must be up-to-date on all Class A Volunteer requirements and must have participated in the most recent Chapter competition for that sport.
Athletes and Unified Partners must be 12 years old by the first day of an NIT competition in order to compete at that NIT.
Criteria for Participants Competing at the Area Level
To compete in an area meet or event, an athlete or Unified Partner must:
- Be at least 8 years old by the first day of the event. Remember, 6 and 7 year olds are eligible to train but not to compete.
- Have a correct, complete and current Athlete Enrollment/Medical Release Form on file or a Class A Volunteer certification and Unified Partner status in the area office as submitted by his or her coach before any training or practice is initiated and within established deadlines.
- Have participated in training sessions for no less than eight weeks.
- Have all entry requirements correctly completed by his or her coach.
- Comply with the established deadlines set by the program/area directors for entry forms, etc.
- Compete in at least one local competition or two scrimmages prior to the area competition.
Criteria for Participants Competing at the Chapter Level
Experts in the field of sports for athletes with disabilities point to the considerable value of team sports. In order for Special Olympics to meet the objective of offering quality team sports competitions, the following rules shall apply:
- In order to qualify for state level competition, an athlete or Unified Partner must have participated at the area level in the sport for which they are entering.
- There will be one certified coach for every team (not one per delegation) participating in team competition in basketball, flag football, soccer, softball and volleyball. (Team or doubles bowling does not apply, meaning each team does not require a certified coach.)
- Whenever possible, a team shall be selected from a local Special Olympics program (a school, center, agency, etc.). No additions to the roster are allowed unless prior approval is granted by the chapter office.
- Combined teams are allowed at both regional and chapter competitions. Coaches must supply a team evaluation questionnaire (TEQ) for the combined team and must identify it as a combined team on TEQ.
- When there is not a sufficient number of athletes to form a team, the following types of teams may be created:
- Combined Team: males and females from a local program (e.g., school, center, agency, etc.) may be combined into a team. Special Olympics shall not offer separate competitions for combined teams. A combined team shall play in the men’s division.
- Composite Team: athletes from more than one local program may be organized into a composite team. A composite team shall not be an all-star team composed of the best players. Composite teams shall have practiced together for a sufficient length of time so that the members play as a team.
- Modified Team: an example of a modified team would be to offer five-a-side soccer as a means for developing the sport. Regulation (11-man) soccer will still be offered.
- Each team shall be evaluated during local and area competitions using an approved sport evaluation sheet.
- Evaluation sheets and area tournament brackets are sent to the next level of competition for establishing groups for classification purposes.
- Classification rounds will be required in all team sports.
Statement of Participation: In team sports, each coach must offer every athlete the opportunity to play in each game.
It is required that every athlete listed on the roster must play during regulation game time. Failure to follow the participation rule will result in a forfeit. The first time it occurs during the tournament will result in a forfeit of that game for the offending team. If that team violates this rule a second time, they will be removed from the tournament.
Additional offenses will result in possible revocation of the coach’s certification. Coaches may indicate on their roster prior to the start of the game, any players that will not play due to injury or behavior problems.
Note: The only exception is in volleyball where each player must compete in every match, not every game.
Procedures for Successful Classification/Divisioning
- Obtain as much information as possible about each team prior to classification:
- Team Evaluation Questionnaires (now required for all area, regional and chapter competitions).
- Competition record of league play and/or competitions.
- Observations during the season by members of the Sports Management Team.
- Additional information from a team’s head coach.
- Based on the information obtained from above, rank all teams from weakest to strongest and note any teams which should be placed in the same division and which teams should not be placed in the same division.
- If the total number of teams is less than 12, one field or court can be utilized with one group of assessors (2 - 3 people).
- If the total number of teams is 12 or more, divide the total number of teams into three equal groups according to their ranking.
- Group 1 - Weakest Teams
- Group 2 - Middle Teams
- Group 3 - Strongest Teams
- Utilize two fields or courts and two sets of assessors (2 - 3 per set). One set of assessors will observe, score and divide the weakest group while simultaneously the other set of assessors observe, score and divide the strongest group of teams.
- After divisioning for Groups 1 and 3 have been completed, the following teams should be brought to the Group 2 classification:
- Any team which was too high for the Group 1 teams or too low for the Group 3 teams.
- The two highest teams which have been divisioned from Group 1 and the two lowest teams which have been divisioned from Group 3.
- Combine both sets of assessors and divide Group 2.
- Meet as a divisioning committee and finalize all divisioning placements.
Other Classification Protocols
- The division committee should be made up of assessors who are experienced in both the sport and Special Olympics.
- At least two scrimmage opportunities should be played by each team during classifications.
- Verify that the dominant players are identified by the head coach.
- Establish ground rules for “play” that will enhance the assessor’s feel for the team’s overall ability.
- Do not be afraid to inconvenience a team in order to assure the proper placement of all teams.
- Classification – Consequences for team not showing up for classification:
Chapter– athletes that do not attend classification (for any reason) must sit out the first game/match that his/her team plays in the tournament.
- If a team does not show up at a classification, without having adhered to notification procedures by reporting and having their absence approved through proper channels, the team will be scratched from the tournament.
Area– areas have the flexibility to enforce a penalty that ranges from no consequences, athlete sits out one game, athlete does not play in tournament or other consequences that the competition committee feels is appropriate for their specific tournament.
- The important thing is that the area competition committee MUST publish the consequences for players not attending classification prior to the classification round.
- Classification – Who plays?
Chapter and Area– Every effort will be made to see all players on a team, but due to time and space constraints, this is not always possible.
- Unless the classification committee says otherwise for a specific tournament, your entire team is expected to attend classification.
- The best players MUST start in their usual position and will be asked to play to their full competitive ability during classification.
Comprehensive Plan for Equalizing Competition
Purpose and Problem
The purpose of this plan is to equalize competition as stated in the Official Special Olympics Sports Rules. In some instances, not every athlete is presented with an equal opportunity to win a medal, and the sense of accomplishment that the medal represents. Past results have shown that some athletes perform 15 percent to 50 percent better than their entry score. Invalid scores are the result of many factors, including the effects of additional training, increased motivation, faulty or inaccurate score reporting and improved track and weather conditions.
SOTX Rabbit Rule
Why does this rule exist?
Special Olympics Texas feels that the "rabbit rule" is a fairer revision of the Honest Effort Rule that is listed in the SOI Sports Rules. Application of the Special Olympics, Inc. Honest Effort Rule would require any athlete who performs over a 15 percent improvement be disqualified in any sport that has an entry score.
The "rabbit rule" was established in athletics, aquatics, bowling and cycling for the purpose of equalizing competition and protecting against inaccurate entry scores or sandbagging in preliminaries. More information will be shared about these and other sports when and if percentages are established.
Please see the athletics/cycling (Summer Games), aquatics (Fall Classic) and bowling (Winter Games) sections for specific rabbit percentages.
How does the “rabbit rule” work?
The rabbit percentage is determined by using the best score in a heat.
For example, in track events, the rabbit percentage is 25 percent. If the fastest time in a particular heat (M2005) is 20 seconds, then the rabbit score for heat M2005 would be: (20 seconds x 75 percent = 15 seconds). This means that any athlete within heat M2005 that runs a time faster than 15 seconds (over a 25 percent improvement) would be identified as a "rabbit" and would have his score removed in the determination of awards for that heat. The other athletes would move up one place.
If the meet is being run with heats fastest to slowest (athlete awarded in heat in which he ran):
- The "rabbit" athlete does NOT repeat the race and the "rabbit" is not disqualified. The "rabbit" athlete is instead placed according to the appropriate heat (in which his score fits) and is awarded according to this new placement. Because the races are run fastest to slowest, the race in which the athlete should have run has already been completed, and the heat in which the athlete should have competed can be determined immediately. A "rabbit" athlete will always be placed in front of the awards stand as an additional award recipient. That athlete should be announced as the “second/third/fourth place, etc.” winner in heat M2004 (heat in which he should have run) as an additional award recipient within the same heat that they just ran (but with the appropriate award place based on a faster heat that already ran). So, a “rabbited” athlete will not take the place of another award recipient - they will be dual-awarded accordingly.
If the meet is being run with heats slowest to fastest (athlete awarded in heat he should have run in):
- The “rabbit” athlete does NOT repeat the race and the "rabbit" is not disqualified. The "rabbit" athlete is held until a faster heat has competed and is instead placed according to the appropriate heat (one in which his score fits) and is awarded as an additional (second/third/fourth place, etc.) with this new heat according to his new placement. The places of the athletes in the heat in which a "rabbit" is inserted are not affected by the "rabbit" score because the "rabbit" is receiving an additional place award in that heat. The "rabbit" will be announced as an "additional second/third/fourth place, etc. finisher" as to clarify that their placement was not due to a tie and stands in front of the place and not on the awards stand. So, a "rabbited" athlete will not take the place of another award recipient; they will be dual-awarded accordingly.
Note: In both scenarios, the "rabbit" receives the same award placement medal or ribbon - only the presentation is different. Also, a "rabbit" should not be reheated into a heat in which he/she finishes first. The only exception is if their score places him/her as the best overall performer in the entire event.
Competition and award directors have the flexibility to run heats fastest to slowest or slowest to fastest. Because of this flexibility, rabbit awards procedures have the flexibility to award rabbits within both scenarios above.
This procedure can be confusing to the casual observer, but the rabbit percentage is in place to protect the integrity of SOTX competition without penalizing athletes with disqualification.
- If an athlete outperforms everyone else in their age group and gender within a single event, they will automatically be awarded a 1st place, regardless if they rabbited or not.
- If an athlete rabbits, they will be awarded using their final score and placed within the closest heat based on that final score.
- If an entire heat rabbits, all athletes will stay in that original heat and be awarded based on their final scores within that heat.
Team Evaluation Questionnaires (TEQs)
Team Evaluation Questionnaires (TEQs) must be turned in with basketball, flag football, soccer, softball and volleyball team competition entries. Rosters should still be turned in for each team.
The TEQ helps to quantify – give a number value – to each team. Each question has a value that helps the classifiers “score” teams which assists in putting them in the proper division.
The TEQ should be filled out and turned in by coaches with entries at every level of competition (area, regional, chapter). The questions pertain to starters only unless otherwise noted.
TEQs for the following sports are located within each sports rules section: basketball, flag football, soccer, softball and volleyball.
Local Training Program and Minimum Standards
- Each local training program must have at least one certified coach.
- Each local training program must conduct training sessions reasonably distributed throughout at least an eight-week period prior to the entry deadline for the area competition and/or chapter competition.
- Coaches must record the scores of each athlete on a weekly basis, under conditions as similar as possible to actual meet conditions.
- Athletes should have at least one local competition or two scrimmage opportunities prior to area competition.
Area Competition Entry
- The coach may submit an “adjusted entry score” on the area entry form. If a coach does not feel an adjusted entry score is necessary, then he/she should not enter one.
- An athlete must compete in the same event(s) at the area meet that they intend to enter at the chapter meet.
- TEQs are required with Unified Sports® and team entries.
Chapter Competition and Games Entry
- Local training programs should continue on a weekly basis up to the date of the chapter games.
- Area scores are recommended to be used as chapter competition entry scores. However, a coach may submit an adjusted score.
- TEQs are required with Unified Sports® and team entries.
- Unified Teams participating at Chapter Games must have participated on a Unified Team at an area level in order to advance. This is mandatory for all participants, including Athletes and Unified Partners.
- Unified Partners must participate at an area competition to compete at a Chapter Games.
Determination of Adjusted Entry Scores
Coaches must record the scores of each athlete on a weekly basis, under conditions as similar as possible to actual meet competition.
The coach should select the score that best represents the athlete’s true performance and use it as the basis for determining the “adjusted entry score” as follows:
- Improvement due to additional training - 0 to 5 percent
- Improvement due to increased motivation - 0 to 5 percent
- Improvement due to improved track and weather conditions - 0 to 5 percent
- Total adjustment 0 - to 15 percent
Example: A coach has an athlete who runs the 100 meter in 20 seconds. The coach may submit an entry score that reflects up to a 15 percent improvement (e.g., 20 seconds x .15 = 3 seconds; 20 - 3 = 17 seconds) if he/she feels it more accurately reflects the true performance of the athlete.