Through sports training and competitions, Special Olympics helps people with intellectual disabilities achieve joy, acceptance and success. They gain the confidence that comes with achievement. They feel empowered. Our Athlete Leadership Programs can take athletes even farther -- as leaders and spokespeople respected in their communities.
Special Olympics athlete David Egan displayed confidence and leadership as he testified before a Senate committee on the value of employment for people with intellectual disabilities.
Exploring New Challenges
As Special Olympics athletes gain in confidence and feel empowered, they often seek new challenges. They want to build on their successes, including their social skills.
They can become mentors for other athletes. They can train to become coaches and officials. They can also move toward a more public role as a speaker or spokesperson, telling audiences and journalists about the remarkable changes that Special Olympics helped bring to their lives.
Special Olympics Athlete Leadership allow athletes to explore opportunities for greater participation in our movement beyond sports training and competition: as coaches, officials, team captains, spokespeople and Board and committee members.
These roles give athletes a voice in shaping the Special Olympics movement, and a chance to spread the word about the transformations Special Olympics can bring to individuals and families. The Athlete Leadership program also provides a way for athletes to showcase talents and interests that may have gone unnoticed, such as public speaking.
Many athletes choose to undergo training to learn presentation skills so they can help spread the message of Special Olympics to the general public. Some are selected by the Board of Directors to serve as Sargent Shriver International Global Messengers. Like Martha Hill of the United States, who says, “I feel the training and opportunities given to me through Special Olympics were an investment in me, and I need to use my abilities to help champion the rights of all those with disabilities.”
Other athletes have an interest in discussing programming and policy. Athletes who serve on the Special Olympics Boards of Directors help the movement set priorities based on what athletes want. Athletes also share their perspectives on how well Games are run, and their wisdom about how to spend Special Olympics resources.
Our athlete leaders are an integral part of the Special Olympics movement. They also help Special Olympics leaders stay in touch with athletes’ interests. This way we can ensure that our programs remain vital and attractive to the people we are trying to serve. At the same time, Athlete Leadership programs offer opportunities for athletes to pursue specialized training that can help them develop in new areas of their lives.
Athlete Leadership trainings are offered in 67 countries and are initiated at the grass-roots level. Many athletes are trained to engage in policy discussions and to articulate their opinions to community and government leaders. Once a year, athletes in the United States lobby members of Congress for both local and global support of Special Olympics.
Through involvement with Athlete Leadership programs, athletes can learn how to speak persuasively; be interviewed by the media; mentor and speak up for other athletes; discuss their opinions on policy and governance; analyze financial reports; and research and prepare for fundraising events and presentations.