How you can help support the Special Olympics

Team GB physio talks about what you can do to help support Special Olympics athletes.

by alistair.beverley

Team GB physiotherapist Alistair Beverley at the games with international Healthy Athlete manager Charita Boseman

I hope you’ve all noticed through the media how well #TeamSOGB are getting along in Abu Dhabi.

While we know that Special Olympics is about far more than just the medals, the guys in the squad have bought into and stuck by the values they themselves set out (below).

Thus, they are reaping the rewards. So much so that GB have on a couple of occasions reached the top of the medals table.

Again, I should point out that the celebration of Special Olympics competition isn’t primarily on the end goal of winning medals but the power of competition and sport to change lives.

It gives a conduit through which individuals can focus, train, learn, achieve and succeed. It helps develop independence, team work, social skills and resilience.

Right now the squad are preparing for the closing ceremony and spirits are high.

In terms of sport, there are plenty of updates, pictures and videos on the Special Olympics Great Britain website, Facebook and Twitter pages which can all be accessed via

Today however, I would like to focus on other ways physios, or indeed anyone will be able to partake in supporting athletes via Special Olympics.

Registering as a family/supporter

You can register as families or supporters and access support from other families or individuals through networks or events.

Our 150 clubs around the country offer a network that connects experienced or ‘veteran’ Special Olympics family members and friends with families and friends new to Special Olympics, so they can provide support and information in a critical time of need.

Our Family and Friends Network create opportunities to

  • match with families to share ideas, issues and common interests
  • volunteer in their loved one's sport training sessions and competitions
  • encourage new families and friends of people with intellectual disabilities to join Special Olympics
  • become advocates for the Special Olympics movement’s Special Olympics GB website
Special Olympics GB team values

Unified Partner

A lesser known route to volunteer in would be to register as a ‘Unified Partner. This role involves competing side by side with individuals with intellectual disabilities as part of the team.

Unified Sports enables athletes to:

  • learn new sports
  • develop higher-level sports skills
  • have new competition experiences
  • experience meaningful inclusion as each athlete is assured of playing a valued role on the team
  • socialise with peers and make new friends (the programme provides a forum for positive social interaction between teammates and often leads to long-lasting friendships)
  • participate in their communities and have choices outside of Special Olympics (Unified Sports programmes are often initiated by community partners, including parks and recreation organisations, schools, colleges, sports clubs and community sports organisations. These partnerships help further include athletes into their wider communities)

Unified partners also have the benefits of having meaningful activity and sports opportunities, thus helping to improve fitness. Speaking to some of the unified partners here at the games with us, each one would 100 per cent recommend participating as a unified partner with one unified sailing athlete saying it has changed their life.

General volunteering

You can register your interest as a general volunteer for events, local clubs as everything from a driver or fund raiser to physiotherapist or coach.

This is how many people get started, finding a local club and registering their interest there

Many Special Olympics clubs would be very grateful of some physio support be it in injury management or tips on ways to optimise training, or just another pair of hands.

Healthy Athlete Screening Programme

One way in which, as physiotherapists you can utilise your skills to the max would be to volunteer as part of the healthy athlete screening programme.

Through Healthy Athletes, more than 155,000 health care professionals and students have been trained to treat people with intellectual disabilities. These healthcare professionals provide improved care to millions.

Volunteer health professionals provide free health screenings including visual, dental, hearing, physiotherapy, psychology and podiatry to athletes at many national and international events. Special Olympics is there to try and redress the health inequalities that exists due to lower uptake of health screening or awareness of individual health. Through screening and training the hope, particularly in GB, is that there is a legacy of health care professional better able to meet the needs of individuals with intellectual disabilities in mainstream healthcare services. This combined with people being more aware of their own health and how to manage this means that there is no need for healthy athletes as all athletes are at peak physical and mental health.

Clearly in Great Britain we have an advantage with the NHS, although there are still athletes being screened with significant health issues that haven’t been picked up. Internationally the health gaps are even larger with athletes having emergency surgery and cancers removed; for them, Healthy Athletes saves lives!

Register your interest

You can register your interest in volunteering


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