Become a Coach

Across Pennsylvania, more than 6,000 coaches reflect a world of acceptance and respect by providing Special Olympics athletes with instruction, guidance, support, and encouragement to achieve new goals. They teach sports fundamentals, techniques and strategy, but they also reinforce sportsmanship, teamwork, team spirit, self-confidence. Most coaches have full-time jobs, but they always find the time for coaching in addition to performing other duties such as obtaining equipment and transporting athletes to competitions.

Coaches often begin as volunteers at an event.  If you are interested in becoming a certified coach, please complete our online volunteer registration. Although no specific sport skill is required to be eligible to coach, many coaches already have expertise in the sport they select.

Athletes ages 18+ that demonstrate good leadership skills are also welcome to become coaches in any sport! While Athletes as Coaches are required to go through the same process as any other coach, it’s important that they understand ahead of time what is expected of them. Many of these questions can be answered in the Athletes as Coaches FAQ. Prior to attending a Training School, any athlete interested in becoming a coach, as well as the head coach they would be working under, are required to submit the Athlete as Coach Request Form to their Regional Sport Director (for established regions) or Field Director (for non-established regions). Athlete as Coach will then be interviewed to determine if they are appropriate to attend a SOPA training school.

While not required, it is also highly encouraged to attend a pre-season Athletes as Coaches webinar hosted by SOPA staff. Dates of these sessions and links to register can be found in the FAQ document.

Steps to Becoming and Staying a SOPA Certified Coach:

Step 1: Courses for all Coaches (assistant and head coaches)  Whether you are a new or seasoned coach, the following three trainings must be up to date in your record:

  • Complete a SOPA Volunteer Application
  • Click on “Do More with Special Olympics” to register as a coach/assistant coach. Once you register for this role, volunteer requirements will be added to your checklist, including a background check and volunteer trainings.
  • General Orientation –  Available in your Volunteer Portal, this is a general introduction to Special Olympics and any new volunteer or coach should take this training prior to working with athletes.
  • Protective Behaviors Training – Online Training that must now be completed every three years. Available in your Volunteer Portal, this training must be completed by all new and existing Class A volunteers (16 years of age and older) prior to working with Special Olympics athletes.
  • Concussion Training Online Training that must now be completed every three years. Available in your Volunteer Portal, this training must be completed by all new and existing Coaches prior to working with Special Olympics athletes.

Step 2: Becoming a Certified Coach – within a year of working with a program a volunteer coach should consider becoming certified in one of two ways:

  • New Coach (skills) – Work with your programs Training Coordinator to schedule for an upcoming training school. A Training School includes rules updates, organizing an eight week training plan, and best practices in coaching Special Olympics Athletes. Sport Skills Program materials are provided to each participant.
  • Practicum Hours – After completing your in-person training you will need to participate in 10 hours of practicum (working with the athletes). Directions on submitting your 10 hours of practicum:
    • Log into your Volunteer Portal
    • You should see 2 items added to your Volunteer Checklist for Coach Certification: Practicum Hours and Continuing Education.
    • Once you complete your 10 hours of Practicum, you will be asked to attest to their completion in the Practicum Hours checklist box.
  • New Coaches with Sport Experience – If you are a new coach with sport experience you are encouraged to complete a Sports Training Application and submit it for approval.  Track 2 – Experienced Coach Application
    Once approved by the SOPA Training department you will be directed to take the basic course – Coaching Special Olympics Athletes and complete 10 hours of practicum. Coaching Special Olympics Athletes is an overview of four components: athlete, coach, training and competition.

Step 3: Continuing Education This training is for certified coaches. Coaches must receive continuing education training every three years to maintain their certification. There are two types of continuing education:

  • Sport Specific – The coach takes a course or clinic that focuses on one sport.   Ex. Equestrian Clinic on Showmanship at Summer Games.
    • A sport specific training updates the sport focused on in the course or clinic. In the example the coaches’ Equestrian certification will be updated for 3 years.
  • Non-Sport Specific – The coach takes an on-line training or clinic that provides information to a coach for many sports. Example: NFHS - Creating a Safe and Respectful Environment.
    • Non-Sport Specific course will update all sports that a coach is currently certified in. If the coach is certified in Alpine Skiing and Aquatics – both of these course will be updated using the non-sport specific continuing education course taken.
  • Once certified in a sport a coach will not take a skills course in that sport again unless they do not take their continuing educations courses/clinics.
  • For a complete list of courses which will meet the Continuing Education requirement of the SOPA Coach Education Program, please click here.
  • Once coach certification is completed, please head to your Volunteer Portal to upload proof of completing your Continuing Education.



A Coach is an individual who assumes responsibility for athletes, actively trains athletes and coaches them in competitions.

SOPA Policy - In order to bring athletes to sectional or state-level competitions, a local program must have at least one Certified Coach (as defined by the SOPA Coach Education Program ) for each team competing in team sports* and one Certified coach for each individual sport.  Coaches must be Certified in the sport in which they are bringing athletes to that competition.  An individual may count as a Certified Coach for only one sport per competition and the Head of Delegation cannot serve as a Certified Coach for purposes of meeting this requirement.  (Team sports are flag football, soccer, softball, floor hockey, volleyball and basketball.)