Special Olympics created this program in 2007 to reach out to children with intellectual disabilities ages 2 to 7, and to welcome them and their families to the Special Olympics movement. The Young Athletes Program is an innovative sports play program for children ages 2 through 7 with intellectual disabilities and their non-disabled peers, designed to introduce them into the world of sport, with the goal of preparing them for Special Olympics sports training and competition when they get older. The benefits have been proven worldwide. First and foremost, these activities will help the children improve physically, cognitively and socially. This program will also raise awareness of the Special Olympics program and serve as an introduction to the resources and support available within Special Olympics Colorado to families, agencies, and schools.
Improved social skills is another inspiring reason parents enroll their children in Young Athletes. The confidence boost makes it easier for them to interact with other children on the playground, whether or not they have intellectual disabilities.
Goals of the Program
This program is designed to address two specific levels of play. Level 1 includes physical activities focused on developing fundamental motor tracking and eye-hand coordination. Level 2 concentrates on the application of these physical activities through a sports skills activity program and developing skills consistent with Special Olympics sports play. The activities will consist of foundational skills, walking & running, balance, and jumping, trapping & catching, throwing, striking, kicking and advanced skills.
Objectives of the Program
1) Engage children with intellectual disabilities through developmentally appropriate play activities designed to foster physical, cogni- tive, and social development.
2) Welcome family members of children with intellectual disabilities to the Special Olympics network of support.
3) Raise awareness about the abilities of children with intellectual disabilities through inclusive peer participation, demonstrations and other events.
How the Program is Conducted
The Young Athletes program includes several resources — a Young Athletes Activities Guide, a Training DVD and a Young Athletes Equipment Kit — to guide family members, educators and other professionals as they conduct Young Athletes activities with their children, brothers, sisters, cousins, grandchildren, students or patients.
Advanced YAP in Colorado
An advanced YAP curriculum guide for kindergarten to second grade (ages 5-7) students is currently being developed utilizing the Special Olympics individual sport skills guides to ensure continued involvement after completing the preschool Young Athletes Program.