Athlete Leadership

Goal of Special Olympics

The ultimate goal of Special Olympics is to help persons with intellectual disabilities participate as productive and respected members of society by offering them a fair opportunity to develop and demonstrate their skills and talents through sports training and competition, and by increasing the public's awareness of their needs and capabilities.

Athlete Leadership Value Statement

Special Olympics empowers athletes to become contributing and respected members of society. We support athlete leaders both on and off the playing field.

Purpose of Athlete Leadership  

The goal of Athlete Leadership is to empower athletes to develop leadership skills and utilize their voices and abilities to assume meaningful leadership roles, influence change within the Special Olympics movement, and create inclusive communities around the world. Check out our Athlete Leadership One Page Snapshot.

    Athlete Leadership on YouTube!

Definition of Athlete Leadership 

Through organized training and practical experiences, Athlete Leadership prepare athletes for meaningful positions of influence and leadership throughout the Special Olympics organization, both on and off the playing field.


Special Olympics Pennsylvania Vision

  • To strive to be an athlete-led and athlete-centric organization
  • To enable athletes, families, volunteers and the community at large to see athletes in leadership roles EVERYWHERE throughout Special Olympics programs
  • To change the perception of our athlete leaders
  • To equip athletes with the skills and abilities to lead our organization and others

Athlete Leadership Roles & Trainings: Overview of Athlete Leadership courses based on the University model which are taken around a major in communications, governance, sports and/or health. In addition, reviews roles athletes can purse following completion of Athlete Leadership University.

Athletes with the proper training and coaching can lead us into the future.   Athlete Leaders within all levels of our program have strong voices, a desire to get involved, and a better understanding of what their needs are and where we should be heading as an organization.

Athlete Leadership Mentor

Athlete Leaders in all roles, regardless of age and ability, must have a Mentor that’s a current Class A Volunteer. A Mentor could be a family member, coach or anyone else an athlete has a good existing relationship with that’s not an athlete. As a Mentor, one must be willing and able to provide their Athlete Leader with whatever support they need before, during and after training at Athlete Leadership University for as long as the athlete wishes to serve in the role.

The core of a successful Mentor experience is the relationship with the Athlete Leader. Understanding of the athlete’s reading, writing and speaking abilities enables the Mentor to provide better support and guidance where needed. Staying in touch at least monthly and always valuing the Athlete Leader’s opinions provides the foundation. The Mentor also provides constructive feedback and facilitates transportation and technology support as needed. Mentors also help create the environment for success by working with parents, caretakers, and Special Olympics volunteers to ensure they understand Athlete Leadership and the goals of your Athlete Leader.

All current Class A Volunteers that are interested in becoming a Mentor can take a 30 minute Mentor Training in the online portal under the “Training Schools, Webinars and More” tab. This is training is a requirement for all Mentors prior to attending Athlete Leadership University. For anyone interested in becoming a Mentor that’s not a Class A volunteer, please click here to fill out the volunteer application.

Athlete Leadership University


SOPA offers three different types of Athlete Leadership University trainings to athletes ages 16+ of all abilities. These trainings are:

1) Athlete Representative: An Athlete Representative is someone that wants to not only lead a conversation, but also is willing to take action and speak on behalf of all athletes.

2) Global Messenger: A Global Messenger is someone who of course enjoys to talk! It should also be someone passionate who can easily sell Special Olympics to others!

3) Healthy Lifestyles (The training to become a Health and Fitness Coordinator): A Health and Fitness Coordinator is an athlete committed to promoting healthier lifestyles for athletes, unified partners, coaches and families. Their primary responsibility is offering year round health and fitness clubs at least once a month to people of all ages and abilities.

Post-Training Expectations

In 2023, SOPA has created a new set of post-training expectations for all Athlete Leaders. In this document, you will find a list of required Leadership Opportunities, instructions for submission, online spreadsheets to help keep track of what you have submitted, personal resources and the process of being recognized following completion of 6 Leadership Opportunities!
Personal resources included are:
1. Athlete Recruitment Handout and Volunteer Recruitment Handout - Global Messenger: Will help Global Messenger and Mentor keep track of how many potential athletes/volunteers they speak to at events. Additionally, these are to be shared with appropriate volunteers/staff to follow up with the individuals that expressed interest.
2. Global Messenger Talking Points for Athlete/Volunteer Recruitment and Global Messenger Talking Points for Fundraising: This will help Global Messengers provide their audience with appropriate facts directly from SOPA to help better explain why they should consider following through on the ask of their speech. 
3. Health and Fitness Coordinator Tracking - Healthy Lifestyles: Will help Health and Fitness Coordinator and Mentor keep track of how many athletes and volunteers participate in monthly Health and Fitness Club activities.
4. One Year Walking Club Schedule - Healthy Lifestyles: A recommended schedule for Health and Fitness Coordinators to help them plan out walking club activities throughout the year. This is inclusive of warm-up, the walk and cool-down.
5. Alternate Health and Fitness Club Activities - Healthy Lifestyles: Once a Health and Fitness Coordinator has offered multiple walking clubs as a part of their Health and Fitness Club Activities, they may consider other activities based on time of year and what is available locally and other factors.
6. Frequently Asked Questions & Answers - Healthy Lifestyles: A list of questions and answers for immediate reference for any athlete that is/wishes to become a Health and Fitness Coordinator as well as for Mentors and other volunteers/staff supporting them.

For more information on all things Athlete Leadership related, please contact Jordan Schubert at jschubert@specialolympicspa.org. If you are interested in becoming an Athlete Leader yourself, please fill out the Athlete Leadership University Interest Form

ALU Interest Form

Athlete Leadership and Unified Champion Schools Sponsor

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