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Quality of Participation Experiences in Special Olympics Sports Programs

Kelly P. Arbour-Nicitopoulos, Natasha Bruno, Krystn Orr, Roxy O’Rourke, Virginia Wright, Rebecca Renwick, Kirsten Bobbie, and James Noronha

This cross-sectional study examined experiential elements facilitating quality sport experiences for youth (ages 12–24 years) in Special Olympics, and the associated influences of sport program and sociodemographic characteristics. A total of 451 athletes involved in the 2019 Special Olympics Youth Games completed a survey assessing elements of quality participation (autonomy, belongingness, challenge, engagement, mastery, and meaning). The t tests investigated whether athletes with intellectual and developmental disabilities rated elements differently across Traditional and Unified Sport programs. Regression analyses explored whether sport program and sociodemographic characteristics were predictors of these elements. Youth reported high mean scores across the elements, with no significant differences between athletes with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Traditional or Unified Sport. Athletes with no reported disability rated higher autonomy than those who reported disability (p = .01). Women tended to report greater engagement in sport than men (p = .07). Findings provide theoretical and practical insights into quality sport participation among youth in Special Olympics.

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The Value of Incorporating Inclusive Sports in Schools: An Exploration of Unified Sport Experiences

Roxy Helliker O’Rourke, Krystn Orr, Rebecca Renwick, F. Virginia Wright, James Noronha, Kirsten Bobbie, and Kelly P. Arbour-Nicitopoulos

School sports programs intentionally created for students with and without disabilities may increase social participation of students with intellectual disabilities (IDs). Special Olympics Unified Sports is one program where students with and without ID participate on one team. Guided by a critical realist paradigm, this study explored the perceptions of students with and without ID and coaches of in-school Unified Sports. Interviews were conducted with 21 youths (12 with ID) and 14 coaches. Thematic analysis resulted in four developed themes (identified is outdated language): Inclusion—Is it aweor a “they?” Roles and Responsibilities, Educational Context for Inclusion, and Buy-In. Findings suggest students with and without ID and coaches value the inclusive nature of Unified Sports. Future research should explore training for coaches on inclusive practices (e.g., language), and optimal methods for consistent training (e.g., use of training manuals) to foster the philosophy of inclusion within school sports.