Play Unified, Live Unified
Team sports bring people together. Special Olympics Unified Sports® teams do that, too and much more. Half a million people worldwide take part in Unified Sports, breaking down stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities in a really fun way.
Playing Together. A gymnasium full of fans watched teams of players with and without intellectual disabilities compete in basketball in Maryland, USA. Unified Sports teams are training and competing worldwide.
Sharing One Language: Sport
Dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences, Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.
In Unified Sports, teams are made up of people of similar age and ability, which makes practices more fun and games more challenging and exciting for all. Having sport in common is just one more way that preconceptions and false ideas are swept away.
One of the biggest Unified Sports leagues is in Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, where about 100 athletes with and without intellectual disabilities play basketball. As with any other local recreation league, all the athletes already see each other in school and in the community, said Pam Yerg, director of Special Olympics in Montgomery County.
In her introduction before an exhibition game, Yerg explained the principles of Unified Sports. And then she let the packed gymnasium know, "This will be an experience you'll never forget."
The Unified Sports Experience
While Unified Sports practices and competitions happen all over the world, every now and then special opportunities arise to showcase the power of Unified Sports. Celebrity Unified Sports Experience exhibition games help to raise awareness and understanding of how Unified Sports fosters a community of acceptance.
One great example was the first-ever NBA Cares Special Olympics Unity Sports Basketball Game took place at the 2012 NBA All-Star weekend in Orlando, Florida.
NBA Cares. Professional basketball players from the NBA and WNBA teamed up with Special Olympcs athletes for a demonstration of Special Olympics Unified Sports Experience. SEE THE ESPN SLIDESHOW
NBA Players Go Unified
The NBA’s global partnership with Special Olympics began more than 30 years ago, and this year expanded to bring people with and without intellectual disabilities together on a global stage.
“This game proved that Special Olympics is about real sports," said NBA legend and Special Olympics board member Sam Perkins.
"Our athletes should never be looked down upon. Today proved that we should all look up to Special Olympics athletes and aspire to carry their spirit of determination. It should make people want to play Special Olympics Unified Sports and have our athletes as their teammates.”
All Smiles. Olympic speed skaters Apolo Ohno and Catriona Le May Doan teamed with Special Olympics athletes from Canada and the United States.
From the Stadium to the Field
One of the first Unified Sports Experience events was tied to the 2010 World Cup for soccer in South Africa. At the Unity Cup event, Special Olympics athletes joined top-notch footballers and world leaders for an exhibition match.
Since then, Unity Sport events have become signature exhibitions of the power of sport to reveal truths about how small the differences are between all people and how valuable the experience of teamwork is.
Champion figure skater Michelle Kwan, a U.S. Olympics Gold Medalist and a member of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors, is a Unified Sports Experience veteran.
She says it's "amazing" seeing what Special Olympics athletes can do and playing unified is an ideal way to experience it.
"It's using sport as a way to bond, as a way to form a team and work together...in sports and in all of life."
First Unity Cup
Special Olympics used this platform to promote unity, tolerance and understanding.See Slideshow ››
Related Coaching Resources
How to Get Involved in Special Olympics
Special Olympics sports training, coaching and competitions go on in more than 170 countries around the world. You can get involved by getting in touch with the closest Special Olympics office.
Special Olympics near you»
Made Possible by The Annenberg Foundation
The Special Olympics movement is profoundly grateful for the support of the Annenberg Foundation which has underwritten the production of the coaches’ guides and resources, supporting our global goals for coaches’ excellence.