Lessons from Special Olympics

I’m not sure if you know this, but I coach Special Olympics basketball here in Sugar Land, TX. This year I also played on our “unified team.” Earlier this month we had our area tournament and I learned so much from the experience that I wanted to share with you.

First a little background on Special Olympics Unified Sports®… Dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences, Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding. In Unified Sports, teams are made up of people of similar age and ability, which makes practices more fun and games more challenging and exciting for all. Having sport in common is just one more way that preconceptions and false ideas are swept away. (Copied from http://www.specialolympics.org/unified-sports.aspx)

So in basketball 2 unified players are on the court with 3 Special Olympics athletes playing together as a team. It is an amazing experience.

Now to the lessons I learned…

Focus on Your Strengths

I learned that everyone has gifts, talents and strengths and that when we put all of our STRENGTHS together, good things happen.

It is simply amazing what happens when you identify the strengths of your team members and then use them to your advantage. In the first couple of games that we coached, we didn’t have that strategy.

But once Coach Stephen realized that Tony shoots well from the baseline and that Darius is wonderful in the middle of the key and the Blake is great right underneath the basket, we put them in those positions. We then asked our point guard to dribble the ball up the floor and make sure those players got the ball in those positions. We started scoring baskets almost every time down the floor. It was a huge victory for us.

“You gotta listen to your coaches.”

I learned that there is a difference between hearing and listening. When we listen and follow, good things can happen.

“You gotta listen to your coaches.” That’s a quote from one of the athletes. How true is that? How often do we get advice from people who have been where we want to go or who have some great thoughts for us, and we don’t listen to it?

I mean, we hear the advice, we just don’t follow it. What would happen if you just followed the instructions and the advice that you got from your coaches?

Sometimes even leaders & referees need feedback

I learned that more perspectives lead to more options and better choices.

In this picture some of our athletes are helping the referees understand what’s going on in the game. (And there is a little giggling going on as well.) Think about it… the players/team members have a very unique perspective and one that leaders, coaches and referees might find helpful.

Are you asking for and open to feedback? Are you listening to multiple perspectives? I mean REALLY listening to them. Sometimes we have a tendency to dismiss other perspectives before we even noodle on them a bit. We judge the person that is giving the perspective. I’ve heard folks say “They’re stupid.” or “That’s stupid.” or “What do they know?” Instead of asking rhetorical questions about other perspectives and dismissing them without consideration, what would happen if you answered the rhetorical question? (Seriously, that’s not a rhetorical question!)

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

 I learned that waiting can be fun if you use that time to connect with others.

What is it that you are anxiously awaiting? Are you waiting with open arms? Do you have your hands on your hips? Is the waiting filled with excitement, anxiety, or worry? In between our games, we waited. What do we do? We talk. We connect. We communicate with one another about our wants, desires, hopes and dreams. JJ, for instance, informed me that he was open. Tony said that he made 3 shots and was going to make more in the next game. Blaine asked if I knew who the Bee Gee’s were. And, Michael told me that Ohio State’s assistant football coach is now coaching at the University of Houston. It wasn’t always about basketball, but we connected

Hang in There

I learned that there’s no need to panic. If you just hang in there, good things can happen.

OK, this sequence of photos taken by our wonderful photographer is a bit self-promoting (that’s me with the ball) but there is a lesson in there.

In that first picture, the chances of me getting my shot off and not eating a Spalding burger (getting my shot blocked) are pretty slim. My opponent/obstacle is bigger, stronger and faster than me. So, in the second picture, I’m just “hanging in there”, trying to patiently wait for an opening and hoping that the threat subsides. In the third pic, his arm went on by and I could see the goal and so I took the shot. (In case you’re wondering… yes, it went in.)


  • Everyone has gifts, talents and strengths and when we put all of our STRENGTHS together, good things happen.
  • There is a difference between hearing and listening. When we listen and follow good counsel, good things can happen.
  • More perspectives lead to more options and better choices.
  • Waiting can be fun if you use that time wisely and connect with others.
  • There is usually no need to panic. If you just hang in there, the threat will eventually pass and more options will open up for you.

One more VERY IMPORTANT lesson…

I believe everyone has special needs… namely, the need to feel special.

Make someone feel special today!

Just try it. A life may be forever changed by your actions… and don’t be surprised if that life is your own.

A very special thank you to all of the volunteers, athletes, parents and especially JJ’s dad for the pictures. Without you this newsletter would’ve never happened.

If you’d like to leave a comment, do so below. I’d love to hear from you.


 I would love to hear what you think about this edition of Breaking Free.  Please leave your comments below.



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