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Special Olympics Young Athletes program welcomes children ages two to seven years old into the Special Olympics family. This program is an innovative sports play program for children with and without intellectual disabilities, designed to introduce them to the world of sports prior to Special Olympics eligibility at age eight.
Young Athletes introduces children with intellectual disabilities and their families to the world of Special Olympics by pursuing the following goals:
A 2011 study demonstrated the efficacy of the Young Athletes program. The study compared youth participating in Young Athletes with those in a control group who did not participate:
The results demonstrate that motor skills in young children with developmental delays can improve when they consistently participate in high quality motor interventions. Motor skills in young children with developmental delays can improve when they consistently participate in high quality motor interventions.
These motor skill improvements occurred over a short period of time (8 weeks) during which children made gains of several months.
The motor skills of young children participating in Young Athletes improved at twice the rate of children in the control group who did not participate in Young Athletes.
Positive results were found in children who had varying disabilities such as developmental delays, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and intellectual disabilities.
The format for instruction includes a variety of sports training that breaks down multiple foundational skills such as kicking, striking, throwing, trapping and catching, balance and jumping, walking and running and advanced skills. Ideally, the coach to athlete ratio is one coach to every three athletes, which will vary depending on the athlete participation number. Small coach to athlete ratios will allow athletes to learn in both a teamwork and one-on-one environment.
At the end of the 7-week program, there is a family night to celebrate the accomplishments of the athletes since the start of the program. The young athletes have the opportunity to showcase what they learned in front of their families and their community. Additionally, this wrap-up celebration allows families that are interested in the program to better understand what the program would offer to their children