Special Olympics challenges athletes with intellectual disabilities to reach their full potential. Gallagher is the official sponsor of Special Olympics Sport and Coach programming.

In the world of sports, coaches often provide the spark — whether the right words of encouragement, an unexpected opportunity to contribute or simply instilling belief in the possibility of success — at the right moment to give individuals the momentum necessary to excel together.

Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver was that spark — and still is to as many as 200 million people with intellectual disabilities (IDs) around the world. Special Olympics' goal is to reach every one of them — and their families as well.

Early in life, Shriver was moved to action after witnessing firsthand the unfair treatment of people with ID. She would ultimately provide a revolutionary opportunity for individuals across the world to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage and experience joy as respected members of society through sport.

As official sponsor of Special Olympics Sport and Coach programming, Gallagher is proud to honor this legacy by partnering with Special Olympics International to promote inclusion, equality and acceptance around the world.

"We are extremely proud to be teaming up with Special Olympics by delivering support in several local communities where we live and work, and will open the door for more people with intellectual disabilities to learn teamwork, improve their fitness and develop confidence," said Gallagher Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Chris Mead.

Without Shriver's focus, ambition and determination to champion ability, not disability, it is unlikely the organization could have grown from a backyard summer camp to an inspirational global movement.

Origins of Special Olympics

Fifty-three years ago, the world began to change for the better for millions of people with intellectual disabilities — and for all those who love them. And it started in Chicago, Illinois.

On July 20, 1968, nearly 1,000 athletes from the U.S. and Canada gathered for the first Special Olympics International Summer Games at Chicago's Soldier Field. This historic event marked a major step in the progression of sport for people with ID around the world.

At the opening of the games, Shriver — the guiding force of this global movement — delivered an inspiring message that would serve as the foundation of the Special Olympics coaching philosophy for years to come. She encouraged participants to think, "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt." That quote became the Athlete Oath for the Special Olympics

Decades prior, the organization that would become Special Olympics International began its journey with establishment of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation in 1946. Shriver was initially a trustee and later took over direction of the foundation in 1957.

Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.
Athlete Oath for Special Olympics

What started as a mission to do good works for a group neglected for too long by society eventually shifted its mission to focus on the positive effects beyond sport that physical exercise and activities have for individuals with ID.

Within a year of the inaugural games in Chicago, a number of Special Olympics programs formed across the U.S. and in Canada, and crossed international borders not long after. Today, more than 5 million athletes train and compete in more than 100,000 events each year in 201 countries and territories.

Evolution of the Special Olympics coaching philosophy

By employing sport as a vehicle for social change, coaches have always been responsible for empowering athletes and serving as the face of an organization committed to ending global discrimination through action at the local level.

In the beginning, the organization emphasized inclusion and participation over competition, but this emphasis does not mean the coaching expectations — from none other than the fearless founder — were set low. Thirty-three-year veteran coach Annette Lynch recalls her experience interviewing with Shriver in 1989 for the position of director of basketball.

"In meeting with Mrs. Shriver, her first question to me was, 'What makes you think that you can do this job?'"

Lynch quickly understood that the commitment was not to be taken lightly, and she assured Shriver that she would volunteer to coach Special Olympics athletes and work with other coaches so the material she developed would be appropriate, meaningful and helpful to both groups.

Today, coaches are helping increase the level of competition by elevating their game. Longtime coach Kenneth Kavanagh, who first joined the Special Olympics in 1997, recalls the evolution of coaching he has seen in his time.

"A lot of what the Special Olympics did worldwide was about simply getting athletes involved and playing," Kavanagh says. "In the last 20-plus years I have been here, the standards for coaching have increased. Coach education has increased, and the demands on coaches to deliver the best possible level of coaching to each athlete has contributed to more and more athletes being involved at all levels."

Coach Christin Santiago explains the emotionally charged transition to a more competition-focused style of coaching from her perspective, and why one of the greatest attributes of the Special Olympics is coaches' ability to listen to the desires of athletes.

The evolution of coaching philosophy has been guided by Special Olympics' founding principles, which emphasize that people with ID can enjoy, learn and benefit from participation in individual and team sports, supported and strengthened by consistent training and competition opportunities for all ability levels under the guidance of qualified coaches.

In short, long-time coach Lynch lays out the value of these relationships to enhance the world of sport and its benefits for individuals: "Athletes need to be prepared to compete; coaches do that."

Special Olympics, Gallagher and a partnership that builds confidence

Both success and failure are important for helping athletes find meaningful personal growth, build confidence for the future and achieve their full potential.

Sports allow people to promote an environment of social inclusion both on and off the field of play. "Every athlete, regardless of ability, disability or any other challenge, should have the right to participate fully in their community," says Kavanagh.

"Many athletes have grown up belittled, bullied, with a feeling of failure because of what they could not do,'' Lynch says. "Helping athletes build confidence begins with putting them in situations and providing opportunities where they can use their strengths, not their lesser strengths. And it's up to us to find out what their strengths are so that we can build upon them."

Gallagher CMO Mead echoes his belief in the power of community-based movements making an impact on a global scale. "Through our shared belief in acknowledging and respecting the abilities of one another, our partnership helps improve critical elements of Special Olympics programming and supports coaches in their dedication to athletes within these local markets and around the world."

Like each Special Olympics athlete, every coach's philosophy is unique, but each is united by the fact that sport provides a framework within communities to help every individual discover new strengths, find success and experience joy.