The Special Olympics Insight

The Special Olympics is a global organization with the mission of providing year-round sports training, education, and competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. With programs in over 220 countries, coordinating more than 30 individual and team sports, there are currently some 94,000 events being held worldwide every year.

Originally founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1962, the Special Olympics mission is to promote understanding, acceptance and dignity, while offering opportunities for people of all ages to develop physical fitness, and foster opportunities for positive competition. Our strong and vibrant community of more than 4.5 million athletes, coaches, and other volunteers come together to share in the power and joy of sports.

special olympics volunteer service

The Special Olympics athlete’s oath, first introduced at the inaugural Special Olympics games in Chicago in 1968 is, “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” Unlike other competitive sports, Special Olympics encourages those of all skill levels to participate, giving everyone the same chance of success. With alternating Summer and Winter World Games being held every two years, there are also competitions throughout the year at the local, state/province, regional and country levels.

To be eligible to participate in Special Olympics, you must be at least 8 years old, and meet one of the following conditions: have intellectual disabilities, have cognitive delays as measured by formal assessment, or have significant learning or vocational problems due to cognitive delay requiring specially designed instruction. For children from ages 2 through 7, the Young Athletes program is dedicated to fun and educational activities, focusing on physical and mental growth.

At the heart of the Special Olympics’ success is its community, with many ways to contribute through hundreds of registration offices around the world, who need volunteers year-round for many kinds of projects. You can volunteer to be a coach or official, or donate your time as a healthcare professional, providing free check-ups through Healthy Athletes program. There are also opportunities for high school and college students to share their enthusiasm by helping out, such as by being a Fan in the Stands, or with Project UNIFY or Partner’s Club, just to name a few.


If you want to help but are unable to do so for time commitments, there are still ways to support Special Olympics. Monetary donations help at every level of our organization, and you can either become a monthly supporter, or make a charitable one-time contribution, either through website, phone or mail.