Good Sports lead to a Good Life

At Special Olympics Massachusetts, we believe in the power of sports. We see how playing on a team has a positive impact on athletes with intellectual disabilities. Whether through a Special Olympics program, town recreation league or the local YMCA, we highly recommend team sports as part of an active lifestyle – for both physical health and social reasons.

First, playing sports provides a number of physical health benefits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that an active lifestyle can lead to:

  • Better muscle and bone strength and growth
  • Better control of your body weight
  • Less risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Less risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome
  • Increased chances of living longer! 

But you can do physical activity in many ways: you can go for a run, hit the gym, or follow a workout video in the comfort of your living room. So, why bother getting involved in team sports? We’re glad you asked!

Team sports not only offer steady physical activity – leading to the benefits outlined above – but being on a team offers personal and social growth for individuals with disabilities as well.

Unfortunately, we still live in a society where individuals with disabilities are often left on the sidelines – in sports, at school, at work and in other social situations. Thankfully, that is beginning to change. At Special Olympics, we have seen a strong shift towards inclusion through team sports, especially Unified Sports®, when athletes with and without disabilities play on the same team, together.

When an athlete steps on the field for the first time there is bound to be some worry. “What if I fail?” “What if I am not as good as the others?” “What if I look silly?” But the teamwork created through weekly practices and social hangouts builds the confidence they need to move from the sideline to the playing field (or the court, track, pool, ice, snow – you get the picture!).

Sports also have a way of bringing people together (unless you’re talking about Red Sox and Yankees fans). The bonds made on the playing field are created from the challenges overcome and joys shared together – experiences you rarely find in “everyday life.”

In a recent survey of athletes who played in the Special Olympics Massachusetts Winter Sports Season, we found that being on a team can have a strong impact:

  • 95% of athletes said that playing sports gave them more chances to spend time socially with people with and without disabilities.
  • 89% said that their physical fitness level had increased.
  • Athletes told us that their confidence improved, as highlighted by one comment: “When I first did Special Olympics I started out terrible and then I noticed that I was starting to improve my game in soccer and basketball.” 

We also asked family members of the athletes to see if they had noticed any changes in the lives of their family members with disabilities. The answer was a loud YES!

  • 90% saw their family member’s self-confidence go up.
  • 90% said playing with Special Olympics helped grow their family member’s social skills.
  • 95% said that participation has given more social opportunities for their family member.
  • One parent commented, “The Special Olympics program absolutely helps with self-confidence and social opportunities!”
  • Another parent pointed to the bonds that are built, “My son is very proud of his abilities, and the camaraderie with other players has been great.”

All this proves that being part of a team can bring joy, friendship and success to the lives of athletes with and without disabilities. And with the added physical benefits of an active lifestyle, they can also achieve a longer and healthier life!

The 2016 Special Olympics Massachusetts Summer Games are almost here! Everyone is encouraged to come out and cheer on the athletes in swimming, gymnastics, tennis, volleyball, and more. Join us June 3-5 at Harvard University and Boston University. For more details, visit our website.