Unified Sports® involve people with and without intellectual disabilities, and they promote inclusion in sports and everyday life. Check out the video below that shows what the Unified experience is all about.

What are Unified Programs?

Special Olympics Unified Programs bring together athletes with and without intellectual disabilities to train and compete on the same team. Throughout the year, Unified Partners participate in a variety of sports to improve physical fitness, sharpen skills, challenge the competition and have fun!

Special Olympics adopted Unified Programs in 1989 to expand sports opportunities for athletes seeking new challenges while dramatically increasing their inclusion in the community. Today, the initiative includes almost all Special Olympics Texas sports. Unified Programs competitions are an important part of Special Olympics World Games, as well as, local, state and National Games.

Unified Programs Enables Athletes to:

  • Learn new sports.
  • Develop higher level sports skills.
  • Have new competition experiences.
  • Experience meaningful inclusion as each athlete is ensured a valued role on the team.
  • Socialize with peers and form friendships as the program provides a forum for positive social interaction between teammates.
  • Participate in their communities. More than 3,000 athletes and partners currently participate in Unified® programs in Texas in cooperation with schools, civic associations, Parks and Recreation departments, and other community sports organizations. These partnerships help further include athletes in their community.

Criteria for Success

  1. An appropriate sport is selected - A sport is chosen based on factors such as availability of qualified coaches, ability levels of potential athletes and partners, finances, facilities and opportunities for competition.
  2. Qualified coaches lead the program - Unified Sports® teams should be organized under the guidance of a trained coach who understands the principles of Unified Programs and the rules, techniques, strategies and training regimens of the selected sport.
  3. A Unifed Programs Model is chosen
    1. Unified Recreation - consists of recreational sport-related enrichment opportunities to promote social inclusion and increase sports skills and knowledge. Level: Athlete in Training
    2. Unified Sports Player Development - refers to the local level where players of higher ability assist teammates to develop sports skills and tactics to successfully participate on a team. Level: local competition only
    3. 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 modification. Levels: local, area, state, national and world competitions
  4. Quality training leads to competition - All members of a Unified Sports® team shall have a minimum of eight weeks of training (practice, scrimmages and league competition) before any Special Olympics Texas competition. This applies to Unified Sports® Player Development and Unified Sports® models. All competitions should be conducted according to Official Special Olympics Texas Sports Rules, including placement of Unified Sports® teams in appropriate age and ability divisions.

Unified Programs are Available in the Following Sports:


  • Athletics
  • Basketball
  • Cycling
  • Equestrian
  • Soccer
  • Tennis


  • Kayaking
  • Aquatics
  • Bocce
  • Flag Football
  • Golf
  • Sailing
  • Softball


  • Bowling
  • Cheerleading & Floorball
  • Figure Skating
  • Powerlifting
  • Roller Skating  
  • Table Tennis
  • Volleyball

To start a Unified Program in your area, email UCSinfo@sotx.org