Our Coaches

Floor hockey players in South Africa gather round their coach for a strategy session before a tournament held near Johannesburg. Photo by Will Schermerhorn

Was there a mentor, teacher or coach who made a difference in your life? The one who gave you the courage and determination to strive to be your best? The one who helped shape both your performance and your character? You can be that important person in someone else’s life.

More Than a Coach

Coaches teach the skills and spirit that define a true athlete. Coaches are role models and character-builders.

Special Olympics coaches go even further -- they help athletes with intellectual disabilities find their own strengths and abilities. They also show them how to build upon those strengths and improve every day.

As a Special Olympics coach, you bring enthusiasm, commitment and a positive attitude to each practice, event and competition. You will enrich the lives of our athletes in many life-changing ways. The skills and confidence an athlete learns through sports have a long and lasting effect. They can help an athlete succeed in school or even find a job.

Coaches also get a lot in return. They get to know athletes who inspire -- athletes who are brave and determined, despite the odds against them.  Coaches become more than teachers, mentors and role models -- they are seen as leaders in the community.  

About Intellectual Disability

Special Olympics is a global movement of people who want to improve the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. But what are intellectual disabilities? Learn More

Coaching Excellence

Special Olympics is committed to Coaching Excellence -- because it benefits both coaches and athletes at the same time. In a supportive learning environment, coaches work to enhance athletes’ sport techniques, tactics and fitness.

One of our top Coaching Excellence goals calls for ongoing coaches’ education; this includes partnering with sports organizations to provide the highest and most up-to-date level of coaching knowledge. Coaching Excellence education helps our coaches better recognize each athlete’s potential. It also comes into play as we increase training and competition opportunities so that each athlete can reach -- or exceed -- their personal best.

As you can see, the focus and commitment is on the athletes. In this way, appropriate training helps coaches provide the best opportunities and experiences for athletes -- at every developmental level -- to reach their maximum potential.

Our coaches aim high and take pride in their athletes' achievements, which can often be life-changing moments. In the words of Annette Lynch, senior manager of Sports Partnerships, Special Olympics North America: “If better is possible, good is not enough.”


Special Olympics athletes with coach in a huddle.

Bringing Out the Best. Special Olympics coaches play an important role in the lives of Special Olympics athletes. 

Coaches Who Inspire -- and Are Inspired

Our coaches give Special Olympics athletes the chance to reach his or her potential --and find their dreams. At the same time, something special can happen.

For Mike Cohen, the surprise came after he began coaching young men with intellectual disabilities who loved basketball. With his training and guidance, the team grew in skill and confidence. They soon began competing against other Special Olympics teams throughout Florida. Soon, their classmates and neighborhood began to follow their games. For the first time, the young men were valued and praised in their community.

Coach Cohen expected Special Olympics to give purpose to these young men. But he didn’t expect to be transformed himself – by their courage and commitment. He also knew he had made a real difference in their lives. Now he is a key player in his local Special Olympics Program. He encourages everyone he knows to get involved.


Stories About Our Coaches


September 11, 2014 | North America: Maryland

Andy Miyares, Swimming with Olympic History

By PHIL WETZLER (HEAD COACH, BALTIMORE CITY AQUATICS TEAM)

In 2008, as head coach of the Baltimore City Special Olympics Maryland swim team, I brought to Baltimore a talented swimmer with Down syndrome, who owned, at that time, over 15 world records for "special needs" athletes.View Story In 2008, as head coach of the Baltimore City Special Olympics Maryland swim team, I brought to Baltimore a talented swimmer with Down syndrome, who owned, at that time, over 15 world records for "special needs" athletes. He was there to swim an exhibition with world and Olympic champions Michael Phelps and Katie Hoff. The athlete is Andy Miyares, who I coached during the Special Olympics World Games in China in 2007. The has been held event during one of our swim practices, at Meadowbrook, "our swim home," for the past nine years. The crowd, our swim team of 48 athletes, and Michael, Katie, and their coach, Bob Bowman, were ecstatic, as Andy Miyares performed, so perfectly,with Michael and Katie. This was, truly, one of the most gratifying experiences of my life, seeing the joy and satisfaction on everyone’s face, and understanding just how meaningful it was and continues to be, in the ongoing competitive, wholesome life of Andy Miyares and his entire family. Andy will never forget that day, nor will I.

About PHIL WETZLER (HEAD COACH, BALTIMORE CITY AQUATICS TEAM):Committed to serving Special Olympics. I coached aquatics in China and Greece world games, 2007 and 2011. Graduated Duke University. Varsity swimming/lacrosse. U.S. Marine Corps. Married 54 years to Marni/2sons/7grandsons.
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September 11, 2014 | Asia Pacific: Singapore

46 Years of Empowerment “Training for Sports Performance” Program

By Kester Edwards

Opening Ceremonies

The Special Olympics Training For Sports Performance program is a Special Olympics sports development program that provides sports-specific coaches education in Open Water Swimming, Beach and Indoor Volleyball.View Story The Special Olympics Training For Sports Performance (TFSP) program is a Special Olympics sports development program that provides sports-specific coaches education in Open Water Swimming, Beach and Indoor Volleyball. There was an emphasis to focused on the following sports science topics; sports injury prevention, sports nutrition and sports psychology. That was held September 28 to 31, 2014 with Special Olympics Singapore. The TFSP drives our global goal to have athletes train multiple times per week! We pilot two new tools that is call Special Olympics Athlete Development Model (ADM) is a support plan designed to empower each of our athletes so they can experience the joy of reaching their full potential. The model promotes motor and skill development as well as health and fitness, while preparing athletes for competition at all levels. The Coach Development Model (CDM) and provide a framework for all SO Programs to certify coaches and recognizes specific coach qualifications. Following the CDM, SO Programs recruit and train coaches to fit into the SOI Athlete Development Model (ADM). Coaches trained under the CDM support a lifelong sport experience for our SO athletes along their different sports development paths. The CDM model also offers guidance and new ideas on how best to work with local sports governing bodies to train and certify coaches. The CDM delivers optimum sports experiences to athletes at all levels and trains coaches to provide excellent instruction, advice, and motivation. It also allows us to develop our unique Unified Sports coaches. The seminar participants came various Programs from around Asia Pacific to Singapore, from as far away as New Zealand, China, Beijing, Japan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Korea and China, Fuzhou. The education was provided through classroom training and discussion, conducted in the morning, and afternoon through Pool and Ocean Open Water Swimming training, Beach Volleyball.

About Kester Edwards:Kester Edwards work in the Sport Department at Special Olympics Inc.
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August 19, 2014 | Europe Eurasia: Israel

In Israel, Mothers Made Time for Children with Intellectual Disabilities After Leaving Air Raid Shelters

By Robi Dolev

Special Olympics Israel mothers and 120 families that have children with special needs living in the Gaza Strip war zone came to a summer vacation in the north of the country.View Story Special Olympics Israel mothers and 120 families that have children with special needs living in the Gaza Strip war zone came to a summer vacation in the north of the country. We offered to make art workshops. When I asked the Special Olympics families who was willing to volunteer, the response was overwhelming. We included Miki, the bocce coach, who requested to join us to play bocce. We eight mothers set off on Wednesday with the bocce coach. We operated through stations, and many people came to join in the activities. The families spent hours with us, crafting, laughing and simply enjoying. We saw mutual assistance between siblings: What love did they pile upon their special brother/sisters. Eight-year-old Noya fell in love with 3-year-old Meir, a remarkable child with Down syndrome. “Can I take him home as a gift?” she asked his mother. Meir’s mother responded with “Such a gift from heaven comes, but once in a lifetime, and I am not letting him go!” It was an unforgettable experience for all.

About Robi Dolev:My name is Tali, I am the family coordinator in Israel, i encourage each time the family members to share stories.
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August 19, 2014 | Africa: Namibia

Growing Unified Sports® Across Africa

By Mr Charles Nyambe

Sports directors from 12 African countries got hands-on experience with Special Olympics Unified Sports at a recent training, laying the groundwork for major growth of the program in Africa over the next three years.View Story Sports directors from 12 African countries got hands-on experience with Special Olympics Unified Sports at a recent training, laying the groundwork for major growth of the program in Africa over the next three years. For the past 15 years Special Olympics has greatly benefited from the generous and steadfast support of Kim Samuel, President of The Samuel Family Foundation. In May, the Samuel Family Foundation together with the Lions Club International, ESPN, and Special Olympics Africa hosted the Unified Sports® training at the Special Olympics Africa region’s headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa. Unified Sports joins together people with and without intellectual disabilities to promote social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences. It was inspired by a simple principle; training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding! Sports Directors from 12 African countries were selected to participate in the Unified Sports Training based on the growth potential of their countries.The Sports Directors participated in a 2 day training session on the principles of Unified Sports and were provided with resources to help implement Unified Sports. The training included a practical component which involved the organisation of a Unified football event at a school in Johannesburg. To drive growth of Unified Sports® in their respective countries, the Sports Directors are expected to return home and train head coaches to serve as trainers. Together they are expected to recruit and train 20 coaches every year for the next 3 years resulting in a total of 60 Unified Sports® trainers and a 600 new Unified Coaches in each country by 2016.

About Mr Charles Nyambe :Senior Director, Operations and Program Development
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August 08, 2014 | Africa: South Africa

We are so lucky!

By Karin Preston

A whole new world opened up for me, broadened my horizons, expanded my skills, working with the youth made me appreciate their unique sense of humor, gave me insight into their passion for their sport and their caring nature.View Story A whole new world opened up for me, broadened my horizons, expanded my skills, working with the youth made me appreciate their unique sense of humor, gave me insight into their passion for their sport and their caring nature. There are some beautiful hearts in our Lion's Club Leos, our Special Olympics athletes, our Special Olympic South Africa staff and our volunteers. Special Olympics gave Leos, myself and our athletes opportunities we could not even dream of. We are so lucky!

About Karin Preston:I am a a member of the International Lion's Club.
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July 12, 2014 | Asia Pacific: Australia

Smiling despite the storm

By jack mcneilly

On the 5th of December 2013 at the Asia Pacific games in Newcastle Australia took on the Philippines.It was a cracking game of football between 2 talented and committed teams.View Story On the 5th of December 2013 at the Asia Pacific games in Newcastle Australia took on the Philippines.It was a cracking game of football between 2 talented and committed teams. The end result was a 1-0 win to the Philippines. After the game I took the Australian players into our opponents rooms, I had good reason to do this. Barely 4 weeks prior to the game the Philippines experienced a natural disaster.Typhoon Haiyan, was one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded,it devastated portions of Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines, on November 8, 2013. It is the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record, killing at least 6,268 people in that country alone. Haiyan is also the strongest storm recorded at landfall, and unofficially the strongest typhoon ever recorded in terms of wind speed. Even four weeks after the Typhoon bodies were still being found. Despite their country being a disaster zone the Philippine players could still smile, clearly my proudest moment as a coach..

About jack mcneilly:Im jack McNeilly coach of the Australia 2 team who took part in the Asia Pacific Games in Newcastle. My football team took on the Philippines after the game i took my boys into the opposition rooms. I told my players about the big storm that had hit the Philippines 4 weeks earlier, we all agreed that we just had to wish them. I'm coaching the Victorian SO football team in October at the national games, I live in Wangaratta and have a wife and two children.
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June 02, 2014 | North America: Minnesota

Woodbury Blazing Stars Featured in Hockey Day Minnesota

By Erin Laurents

I want to share this great video of the Woodbury Blazing Stars. The team was featured during ‎Hockey Day Minnesota 2014.View Story I want to share this great video of the Woodbury Blazing Stars. The team was featured during ‎Hockey Day Minnesota 2014 when we invited the East Ridge Girls High School Hockey Team ‎to come and scrimmage our poly hockey teams. Fox Sports North was kind enough to film the ‎event as well as interview some of our athletes. Everyone had a fantastic time! Our athletes ‎enjoyed the opportunity to compete against East Ridge and to share their love of hockey with ‎them. Something that may not have been possible if not for Special Olympics! We are looking ‎forward to a rematch next year!‎‎

About Erin Laurents:I am the Head Coach of the Blazing Stars Special Olympics Team, which is located in ‎Woodbury, Minnesota. I have been with them for three years now and coach poly hockey, ‎softball, and basketball. I also play as a Unified Partner in Flag Football with them as well as ‎mentor two athletes who participate in the Athlete Leadership Programs.
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