Purpose. This study aims to identify the impact of the Special Olympics’ Unified Sports program on the personal development of its participants. Methods. A qualitative method was used, which included gathering data by interviewing individual athletes and unified teams, by collecting individual personal histories and by use of connection charts from five European countries that participate in the Unified Sports program. A total of 221 data samples were recorded. Results. Athletes reported improvements in their abilities on the field as well as increased fitness and technical ability. They emphasized the importance of team-work and trust between athletes. Improvements in confidence, self-esteem and communication skills were also reported by athletes. Partners also reported a positive change in attitude towards people with intellectual disabilities. Friendships were a central and vital aspect of taking part in the teams. Friendships developed between athletes and partners. Athletes reported increased access to community “places” such as sports facilities and social venues. Conclusions. Unified Sports is an exciting initiative that holds much promise in transforming the life experiences of young athletes with intellectual disabilities. The impact of the Unified Sports program on the personal development of participants applies to all areas of human functioning - physical, mental and social. Our evaluation suggests that its concepts and modes of operations transcend national boundaries and cultures at least within a European context.
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