When Special Olympics began in 1968, the idea that people with intellectual disabilities could take part in Olympic-type sports training and athletic competition was considered “freethinking.” Today, it is common sense. 

Some people still believe that the idea of Special Olympics athletes in full and meaningful participation in leadership positions in the movement is “freethinking” or tokenism. But at Special Olympics Hawaii, the “next age” has arrived. A quote from Matthew Arnold explains, “The freethinking of one age is the common sense of the next.” 

Special Olympics Athlete Leadership Programs (ALPs) allow athletes to explore opportunities for participation in roles previously considered “non-traditional.’ Through ALPs, athletes become leaders in their own program. The ALPs program is dedicated to the empowerment and dignity of the Special Olympics athletes.

ALPs Training

Introduction to ALPs – An overview of the philosophy of athlete empowerment and inclusion in all aspects of the Special Olympics movement as well as a review of current ALPs Initiatives and goals.

Global Messenger Beginners Course – Training and presentations for athletes interested in representing Special Olympics and Special Olympics Hawaii athletes in formal or support settings.

Global Messenger Graduate Course– Follow-up training to the Beginner Course that works on refining public speaking skills, focuses speeches to get the desired action by the audience and preparation of various media/presentation situations one encounters as a public speakers for Special Olympics.

Leadership 101 – Leadership requires a personal vision and ability to communicate that vision and instill a sense of trust among the people who you have help you fulfill your vision. This course helps athletes and volunteers work together to discover their personal vision and test their communication and trust building skills.

Athlete Input Council/Congress – Provides a formal, deliberative process for the representation of athlete input in Special Olympics programming, procedures and/or governance processes.

Athletes as Coaches – Provides background and practical experiences on the role of the Head Coach and Assistant Coach in targeted sports. Athletes are trained in regular coaches education workshops/clinics and a practicum must be completed in order to become certified for Special Olympics Hawaii.

Athletes as Officials – Provides athletes with readiness training for them to become certified Special Olympics Officials. Training is provided 1-1 and then athletes are teamed up with certified officials and given an opportunity to officiate their given sport.

Athletes on Board of Directors

Any decision-making group that represents people should include the very people they serve as their members. Accordingly, all accredited Special Olympics Programs are required to have an athlete on the Board of Directors. With athletes on its Board, Special Olympics Hawaii movement can set priorities based on what athletes want, hear their thoughts on how well Games were conducted, and hear their wisdom about how to spend Special Olympics resources. 

Special Olympics Hawaii first selected an athlete to serve on the Board of Directors in 2000. Area programs nominate an athlete that they feel will best represent not only their area program, but all of the athletes throughout the state of Hawaii. The staff of Special Olympics Hawaii will then look through all the nominations, determine if an interview needs to be conducted and then selects the athlete they would like to ask to serve as the Athlete Representative. If that athlete agrees to serve, they are presented to the Board of Directors to be nominated and then selected as an official Special Olympics Hawaii Board member. The athlete has full voting privileges when serving. In 2003, the Board of Directors began a Board mentorship for the Athlete representative. The mentor assists the athlete in the understanding of procedures and the interpretation of the information that has been shared.

Athletes as Coaches and Officials


Many Special Olympics athletes report that after years of being coached and competing in a given sport, they feel that they have a grasp of the fundamentals of the sport and that they want to be able to teach that sport to someone else. Special Olympics Hawaii currently has athletes as assistant certified coaches in the sports of Swimming and Softball. Any athlete that feels that they have enough experience and knowledge in any of the sports that we offer may chose to become a Certified Coach in that sport. Athletes must attend the Coaches Certification Course that is provided by Special Olympics Hawaii. They then must complete the 10-hour hands on coaching practicum working with athletes within their area program. When they have finished that practicum, they are a Certified Special Olympics Coach. 

When the community and other Special Olympics athletes see other athletes step up to an Assistant Coach role, they see Special Olympics as inclusive and cutting edge.


The Athletes as Official program provides individuals the opportunity to obtain a certification and serve as an official at competitions. Any athlete that feels that they have enough experience and knowledge in any of the sports that we offer may choose to become a Certified Official in that sport. Athletes must attend the Officials training that is provided by Special Olympics Hawaii. They will then officiate at a Special Olympics event with a partner for that sport. When Special Olympics feels they have had enough experience and understands the role of an official well enough, they will be given the opportunity to become a solo official.

Athlete Input Council and Congress


The Area Athlete Input Council is a program where athletes have an opportunity to discuss their area and state Special Olympics program with each other. They share their opinions on what they like about their program and the changes they would like to see. From the Athlete Input Council, representatives are nominated and elected to serve as a representative to the Athlete Congress. 

Athletes are taught that they represent not only themselves in these meetings, but all of the athletes in their Area program. They must now speak for more than themselves.


The Athlete Input Council members determine the areas of discussion for the State Athlete Congress that is held every two (2) years. The athlete representatives have the opportunity to discuss items of concern to them, vote on those issues and make recommendations of action they believe must be taken. They must be a part of that action by making presentations to the appropriate people. That could include making presentations to the staff of Special Olympics or even to the Special Olympics Hawaii Board of Directors. 

The Congress has become a unique opportunity for athletes to learn that they do have a voice and there is an outlet within this organization to express their opinions. They have learned that when they step forward with well thought out opinions and ideas on how they would like to see change happen, that people will listen to them. 

One athlete from Special Olympics Hawaii will be nominated to the Global Athlete Congress that is held periodically around the World. These athletes will be selected from all the nominations from North America to represent their region at the Global Congress.

Athletes as Volunteers

Many athletes have reported that they are looking for new activities and challenges. Providing athletes the chance to formally volunteer gives them an opportunity to continue their involvement with Special Olympics in new and challenging ways. Athletes that have decided that they do not wish to compete in a given season, may decide they would like to become a volunteer for that games. There is no specific training for this to occur. The athlete only needs to contact their Area Director or the Volunteer Coordinator links to contact us page at the state office. 

Many athletes have volunteered their time doing administrative work both at the Area program and for the State office. We also have several athletes that have taken volunteer roles at competitions. This has provided excellent work skills for our Special Olympics athletes.

Global Messengers

Global Messengers are Special Olympics athletes who help spread the message and vision of the Special Olympics movement as well as the benefits they have gained by participating in Special Olympics. As leaders and message-bearers of the movement, Global Messengers communicate the powerful declarations of hope, acceptance, and courage of Special Olympics athletes around the world. Only athletes can effectively relate the impact that the movement has had on their lives and the lives of their families. Athletes are trained in the Global Messenger Beginners program to learn and develop basic speaking skills. In the Global Messenger Graduate program, athletes are trained to develop more in depth speech dealing with their lives, families, opinions, attitudes, etc. They learn to answer specific questions about themselves and the program. Special Olympics Hawaii has 50 trained Global Messengers. 

Global Messengers have become a very large part of several aspects of the Special Olympics Hawaii program. They are involved in all fundraising events, opening ceremonies of state games, conferences, and with general presentations. Special Olympics Hawaii truly believes that our athletes are the “voice” of this program. 

In 2003, Special Olympics and the Toastmasters of Hawaii, a speakers club, joined in a partnership to give our Global Messengers further opportunities to speak. The Toastmasters have provided additional training for our Global Messengers through training called the Speechcraft Course and we have established our own Special Olympics Toastmasters Club.

Athletes in Technology

The Athletes in Technology program provides a very unique way for Special Olympics to spread the message and vision of the Special Olympics movement. Special Olympics Hawaii was the first program in the world to offer this unique training for our Special Olympics athletes. Athletes are trained to develop PowerPoint presentations or slideshows for the community. This training includes learning how to use digital cameras, computers and the PowerPoint program. 

This has given the athletes an opportunity to be able to tell not only the story of Special Olympics, but also their own personal life story. Athletes that cannot tell their own stories for whatever reason can now tell their fantastic story to the world. This visual presentation about Special Olympics has been well received in the community. This is just one more way to show our athletes extraordinary abilities.