You may have heard of Special Olympics, but it’s likely you may not have heard of Unified Sports. Unified Sports is part of the Special Olympics organization, but serves a different but similar purpose. It’s all about inclusion. If you’re following the movement at all it’s really focusing on the tag line “choose to include”.
Based on statistics from Special Olympics over 1.2 million people worldwide participate in Unified Sports. The other question you might be asking is, what is Unified Sports? The Unified Sports program is focused on breaking down stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities by using the power of sports. The program pairs people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team to compete in sports. Teams are comprised of people of similar age and ability.
I’ve been fortunate to have participated in a few Unified Sports events and see this program play out first hand. I love it! I love the competition, which is very high, but more importantly I love the inclusion component. You can see it played out before you. Everyone is treated the same regardless of ability. Historically that hasn’t always been the same, and I love the notion of inclusion. Why not include everyone.
The more we can be around those different from us the more opportunities we have to learn from others and hopefully become better people. Unified Sports is growing across the country. It’s seen good growth specifically in high schools around the country and that movement has expanded into Colleges and Universities too.
Currently the main sports played include flag football, soccer, and basketball. Some programs play multiple sports or focus on one of these. There is no reason why we can’t add Floorball to the mix. I did a demo two years ago at the Special Olympics of Washington Winter Olympics and it went really well. Those who participate loved the sport, and took to it quickly. Later, there were videos posted about the event. In the comments it was interesting to me to see some things that people were saying. Most of them were positive, but a few comments fell along the lines of concern for player safety.
It’s not the first time that topic has come up. In fact, it’s probably one of the first things that comes up. While we can’t control every potential incident that could happen, Floorball is by and large a lower contact and safe sport. The crucial component come through training and education of how to play the sport. On top of that we’re likely teaching a new skill and there needs to be time to develop that skill. It’s about physical literacy and movement of the body. For many, they don’t have the same opportunities to develop these specific skills because they’ve never had to before. That’s ok. Give the proper training all players can learn to be safe and competitive athletes in Floorball.
Needless to say I’m excited to do what I can to help everyone get involved in Floorball. I’m going to work hard to help train coaches and players to play the sport. While I love the sport and want to see it grow, it’s more about providing more opportunities for everyone to get involved physical activity in something that they become passionate about. If it happens to be Floorball all the better. If you have a Special Olympics or Unified Sports program and want to add Floorball let me know and I’ll be happy to get you the resources and training you need to make it a success.