Beyond the Playing Field

A Program Evaluation of Unified Sports in Elementary Schools

The value of Special Olympics in the lives of individuals with intellectual disabilities has been well documented. Special Olympics has been shown to have numerous benefits for participants, from improving the physical well-being of athletes to increasing their social competence, self-concept, adaptive behavior, and social relationships.

Recently, in an attempt to become more inclusive, Special Olympics (SO) has broadened its programs to include Unified Sports, a program in which youth with and without intellectual disabilities (ID) train and compete as equals on a competitive sports team. These programs have been received positively by athletes, teachers, school administrators, and parents.

The Center for Social Development and Education has had the opportunity to document the positive impact that Unified Sports has had on athletes. A 2001 evaluation of Unified Sports programs throughout the United States showed that family members saw significant improvements in athletes’ self-esteem and social relationships, as well as in physical abilities and sports skills.

We would now like to look more closely at the benefits of Unified Sports “beyond the playing field,” specifically the impacts that it may have on students’s classroom performance.  Studies have found improved academic achievement, classroom conduct, and social skills for students who participate in after-school programming. Therefore, we believe that after-school recreational and sports programming have great promise in helping students with intellectual disabilities succeed in the classroom and building social and academic skills.

Center for Social Development and Education

10th Floor, Healey Library,
100 Morrissey Blvd
Boston, MA 02125 USA