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The Special Olympics Athletics Program

  • Synopsis: Published: 2010-07-08 (Revised/Updated 2011-01-11) - Special Olympics Athletics track and field-based events and training to develop complete fitness and compete in any sport - Disabled World.

Main Document

Special Olympics Athletics involves track and field-based events and training in which participants are able to develop complete fitness and compete in any sport.

The sport of athletics encourages athletes of all abilities and age groups to compete at their optimum levels. The sport of athletics, like all Special Olympics sports, provides athletes with the opportunity to learn and develop skills, as well as compete and become involved in large social settings.

Success in athletics is dependent upon the athlete's practice habits and determination, although simply participating in an athletics training program can help an athlete to learn a number of things. Through participation, an athlete can learn the ability to make independent decisions, for example; or self-discipline. They may also learn life-long fitness skills that help them to lead more productive and independent lives.

There are various skill levels Special Olympic athletes demonstrate. Coaches involved in training athletes have the responsibility of learning the skill level of each individual who is participating. With the knowledge of each athlete's level of skill, a coach makes use of the resources available to them and adapts them to each individual athlete. Should a skill or particular drill technique appear too difficult, a coach may simply modify it, helping the athlete to learn and perform. Participants in the athletics program find themselves continually challenged and assessed, working to improve their skills. Athletes are provided with positive encouragement, regardless of their skill level.

Athletics Goals and Objectives

Athletes participating in the athletics program find the coaches involved presenting them with realistic, yet challenging goals; ones that are important to the motivation of each individual in relation to training and competitions. The goals establish and drive the action behind the athlete's training and competition plans. Athletes in the program develop confidence, helping them to have fun as they participate; something that is crucial to their motivation. The setting of goals is something both the athlete and their coach participate in and includes:

  • Structuring goals into short-term, intermediate and long-term
  • 'Stepping stones to success'
  • Acceptance of the goals by the athlete
  • Goals that vary in difficulty "easily attainable to challenging
  • Goals that are measurable

The long-term goal of all athletes in the Special Olympics Athletics program is to acquire basic athletics skills, appropriate social behavior, and functional knowledge of the rules which are necessary to participate successfully in athletics competitions. There are also a number of short-term objectives involved in the athletics program, which include:

  • Athlete will warm-up properly before a track and field practice or meet
  • Athlete will successfully perform track skills
  • Athlete will successfully perform field skills
  • Athlete will comply with official athletics rules while participating in athletics competitions
  • Athlete will exhibit sportsmanship with teammates and opponents at all times

Organization and planning are highly-important parts of the Special Olympics Athletics program; they are the keys to success. Preparation for the season ahead is something that is actually accomplished backwards. The athlete and their coach work back in time, starting with preparation and early competitions until they arrive at the start of their training year. The best training plans are both simple and flexible, allowing for changes resulting from the athlete's improvements and progress.

Athletics and Periodization

Image of Chrissy on the track A major objective of any form of training and competition program is ensuring the athlete is completely prepared, not only physically, but mentally, to perform at their peak ability. The term, 'periodization,' is one that is used to describe the division of an athlete's training and competition program. Each of the periods has specific training objectives associated with it. There are four periods of training that work best when they are followed despite if the time available is one full year, six months, twelve, or eight weeks. These periods include:

  • Preparation Period
  • Pre-Season Training
  • Competition Period
  • In-Season Period
  • Transition Period

The Preparation Period: The preparation period is the first and longest of any in the training and competition program. During this period, athletes move from general training to specific, with the main objective of preparation for competition. The athlete pursues fitness and conditioning in this period, gradually increasing their volume of training. The process allows the athlete allows the athlete to accomplish the demands related to specialized training.

Pre-season Training: The goals of pre-season training involve development, such as development of sports-specific muscle strength and endurance. Athletes develop appropriate aerobic endurance and anaerobic, or high-intensity, conditioning. They also develop muscle power and sports-specific skills. Special Olympics athletes who arrive for training in a state of general good health and fitness have a higher likelihood of yielding better competition performances, as well as year-round results. Athletes are encouraged to develop and maintain year-round, good physical and nutritional habits.

Examples of exercises involved in aerobic conditioning training include running, swimming, or cycling. Anaerobic exercises might include sprinting, hill training, or Fartlek. The majority of Fartlek sessions last a minimum of forty-five minutes and can vary from aerobic walking to anaerobic sprinting. Fartlek training is commonly associated with running, although it can include almost any form of exercise.

Competition Period: While in the competition period, athletes gradually decrease their volume while increasing their intensity. For example; the athlete lifts heavier weights, but less often. Speed workouts are run at a faster pace, yet the athlete's recovery times are longer. The characteristics of competition are simulated during this training period. Local area, dual area, or mini competitions are good training competitions during this period of the athlete's training. The athlete's, 'athletic shapes,' is at its peak during this training period.

In-Season Training: During the in-season training period, the athlete and their coach plan each practice session in accordance with the things that need to be accomplished. They use the athlete's individual progress and gradual even specification as guidelines for planning, continuing to use the athlete's skills assessments to record the individual's progress. They move from the general preparation phase to the specific preparation one, accompanied by mini competitions. Training during the in-season involves two main goals; maintaining the gains of the athlete's pre-season training, and continuing specific attention to areas of the athlete's body that are at risk of either a prior injury, or the particular risk of the sport.

Transition Period:The transition period is also referred to as the, 'active-rest,' period. When the end of the season draws near, the athlete does not wish to lose all they have gained. The largest objective during the transition period is to allow athletes to recover, both physically and mentally, from the hard work they have done during the prior periods of training. Implementation of low-volume and low-intensity training exercises during the transition period is initiated. Athletes are encouraged to do anything other than the event they have been training for in the previous periods and have fun! They should pursue an alternate activity that is enjoyable and less-strenuous, as well as relaxing.

The benefits of participating in Special Olympics Athletics are many-fold. Athletes experience not only an increase in their physical fitness, they learn sports skills that are essential to a number of other forms of activities. They learn self-discipline while learning a means for self-expression and social interaction.



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