Young Athletes™ is an innovative sports play programme for children with intellectual (learning) disabilities designed to introduce them to the world of sports prior to Special Olympics eligibility at age six.
In 2007, Special Olympics created this programme to reach out to children with intellectual (learning) disabilities ages two to seven, and to welcome them and their families to the Special Olympics movement.
Building Motor Skills
The programme focuses on the basics crucial to cognitive development: physical activities that develop motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination, and the application of these physical skills through sports skills programmes.
The programme is designed to be simple enough for families to play with their young athletes at home in a fun atmosphere. It is also appropriate for nurseries, schools and playgroups to use with small groups of children with and without intellectual (learning) disabilities, and has the added benefit of improving social skills and building confidence.
Young Athletes in Great Britain
The Young Athletes Programme was launched at the Special Olympics GB National Summer Games in Leicester in July 2009 by Tim Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics International.
At the heart of the Games Village, 12 youngsters performed a sports showcase to illustrate the potential of the Young Athletes Programme and to engage families at the Games.
In 2012, Special Olympics Cheshire East club has developed a calendar of come & try events especially designed for toddlers and children under age of eight, and hosted a ‘Young Athletes’ gymnastics event to encourage very young athletes with an intellectual disability, their siblings and parents to take part in sport.
Coach Jane Whetnall is thrilled with the success of the Young Athletes Programme in Cheshire, and said:
“The Young Athletes programme not only develops a child’s physical strength and coordination it also assists with the development of the whole area of speech, language and communication It is also invaluable in developing appropriate behaviour and help to teach children how to socialise and interact with each other in a positive manner.
"At the same time, the Young Athletes Programme helps parents to see what their child is capable off, show that their child can have fun and be very happy.”
For more information on the Young Athletes Programme, please contact Tom Kavanagh-Adams, Young Athletes & Families Programme Manager.