Preparing for the Future: Special Olympics Research at the 1991 ISSOG

By Paciorek, Michael J. | Palaestra, Winter 1992 | Go to article overview

Preparing for the Future: Special Olympics Research at the 1991 ISSOG


Paciorek, Michael J., Palaestra


With almost 6,000 athletes, ranging in ages from 8 - 69, representing all 50 states, District of Columbia, 3 U.S. Territories, and over 100 countries, tremendous opportunities existed for increasing understanding of effects of participation in Special Olympics on athletes with mental retardation. Special Olympics International is interested in program improvement, and took advantage of the 1991 ISSOG to collect data and conduct several research projects

Six research projects were planned by Special Olympics research staff. Most projects involved programmatic research to assist staff, evaluate current status of Special Olympics, and determine procedures in organization, training, competition, and sport offerings that may need subsequent modifications. This should enable Special Olympics program planners to develop a research base from which sound future decisions can be made.

Older Athletes

One research project involved developing a participation profile of athletes over the age of 35. Seventeen percent of athletes at the 1991 Games were age 35 and older, and this percentage may increase during coming years. Assessment data, gathered through a random survey of athletes, included factors such as length of time and intensity of participation. In addition, surveyors determined types of competitive sport activities of athletes over 35. A profile was also obtained on degree to which these Special Olympics athletes become involved in integrated community based recreational activities. These results may provide Special Olympics International with information on effects of the program, and assist in developing sports programs appropriate for older athletes.

Community Independence

Another study involved athletes over the age of 21 (46% of athletes in the 1991 Games), most of whom are no longer in school settings. This study attempted to determine impact of involvement in Special Olympics in assisting athletes to lead independent lives in their own communities. A major focus of this study was on what Special Olympics athletes do during leisure time. Hopefully, Special Olympics assists in developing a broad base of competitive sport skills that may be used in leisure life in the community. Access, or lack of access through travel to community-based competitive sport programs was also studied.

International

Special Olympics

With over 100 national programs represented, many for the first time, the international structure of Special Olympics was investigated. Researchers studied social services within countries that led to creating and developing Special Olympics. Some social institutions in various countries that have supported initiating and developing Special Olympics have included special school and special education rehabilitation centers, churches, community service organizations, and parent groups for people with mental retardation. Furthermore, some countries with central planning of social services have adopted the concept to Special Olympics and are making provisions for competitive sport for athletes with mental retardation.

Planning for development of Special Olympics in these countries is in part through government. For instance, in USSR, Special Olympics is a non-profit organization that has enrolled 15,000 out of 500,000 who are mentally retarded. There is evidence that both the government and non-profit Special Olympics organizations are attempting to increase involvement of unserved persons with mental retardation in competitive sport through work with Special Olympics.

Other issues studied in the international survey of Special Olympics development included how coaches were trained, and degree to which persons considered mentally retarded are integrated with non-mentally retarded individuals in competitive sport activities. …

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