The Special Olympics is known around the world for providing opportunities for athletes with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities to join in appropriate sports competitions. But what about athletes whose disabilities are so severe they can’t participate?
The organization has a special Motor Activity Training Program that teaches appropriate skills to athletes of all abilities and provides everyone the chance to play sports. Alvexo, a gold sponsor of Special Olympics Cyprus, is working to bring attention to, and share the joy and success that comes out of this special program.
What is MATP?
The Special Olympics Motor Activity Training Program, or MATP, is for athletes who can’t participate in official Special Olympics competitions because of their skill or functional abilities, often because of significant physical or intellectual disabilities.
The program helps prepare these athletes for activities that fit their ability levels for specific sports. The goals of MATP are twofold: to provide sufficient sport-specific training to each athlete, and to create opportunities for athletes to perform at their personal best.
The Special Olympics sets up recommendations for base activities, but coaches can tailor the training and activities to meet the needs of each athlete. With MATP, no one is excluded from playing sports, and a solution to every disability roadblock is always found.
The Special Olympics relies on volunteer coaches for much of its success. To work in the Motor Activity Training Program, coaches must participate in a special training program that helps them identify and evaluate athlete’s physical and mental abilities.
Coaches then work with athletes and their families to identify the best sport to focus on that best meets the athlete’s interest and abilities. Coaches typically expose athletes to a number of activity options to see if there is interest, and many find out about the athlete’s sports heroes.
An athlete who looks up to a certain baseball or football player, for example, has the opportunity to follow in their footsteps with modified activities in those sports. Coaches also take into consideration what exercises and sports would allow the athlete to participate to their fullest activity. For example, an athlete in a wheelchair with limited body movement could likely best participate in a seated sport like track and field, as long as that option meet his or her interests.
After the sport is selected, coaches work with the athlete and family members to create a personalized eight-week training program. Peer coaches, who are around the same age as the athlete, can come in to help with the training exercises.
All skills are learned in the context of the sport, so an athlete doesn’t just learn how to move her hands to catch a ball, she learns how to catch a softball someone is throwing to her. With each training session, athletes have the chance to learn and practice new skills and then to apply those skills in a related group game or activity. After the program is complete, athletes have the chance to participate in organized games that are solely for fun and to celebrate their success.
Benefits of MATP
The unique program provides many benefits to both athletes and coaches, including increased physical activity that can lead to fitness improvements, as well as advances in motor skills and functional ability. Most MATP participants have never had an opportunity to participate in competitive sports of any kind because of their disabilities, so the program opens doors that were previously locked.
MATP also provides opportunities for athletes to gain self confidence and a positive self image as they work towards and master skills that are customized for their abilities. Athletes and their families benefit through extra time together and friendships made with other people in similar situations. For these Special Olympics athletes, the benefits don’t stop when they step off the field or court—the skills and confidence gained from participating can have a huge impact on all other areas of their lives.
The MATP is a program unlike anything else available in the world and continues the mission of the Special Olympics to bring sports, recreation, and happiness to everyone, regardless of their physical or intellectual limitations. Through personalized support and encouragement, even the most disabled athletes can find the joy and confidence in reaching their goals through sports.