For every child, the chance to belong and play

What is sport for every child? The chance to kick a ball? To play with friends? Perhaps, the chance to belong to a community, to share in success or sometimes failure, to learn important life lessons about respect, cooperation and leadership.

UNICEF MK
A group of children celebrate under a giant multi-coloured flag after a sport events
UNICEF/2017

24 July 2018

What is sport for every child? The chance to kick a ball? To play with friends? Perhaps, the chance to belong to a community, to share in success or sometimes failure, to learn important life lessons about respect, cooperation and leadership. What about sport for every child with disabilities? Is it any different?

This Young Athletes programme — a children’s sport initiative that brings together 2 to 7-year-old children with and without disabilities — proved that sport has the power to transform and improve the lives of children, regardless of their ability.

A group of enthusiastic volunteers and coaches trained through a UNICEF and EU supported initiative implemented by “Special Olympic Macedonia” worked with children from Skopje and Tetovo. The goal of the Young Athletes initiative was to provide opportunities for children to participate in inclusive sports, educational, social and entertaining activities leading to acceptance of disabilities and inclusive communities.

After six months of training, families, teachers, children and community leaders had an opportunity to see the results of “Young Athletes” initiative. So, what did sport teach children?

Children learned acceptance.

Inclusive play helps children without disability to better understand and accept others. Children with and without disabilities learned to get along with others and develop social and cognitive skills.

A young bay jumps over rings placed on the floor of a sports gym while a trainer monitors him
UNICEF/2017
A child from Tetovo moved from sedentary life at home to enjoying physical exercise, a new good habit that he can nurture in the years to come.

Children learned they can get fit in, in a fun way.

It is important to teach children healthy habits while they are young. This can set the stage for a life of physical activity, friendships and learning.

Two boys coming out of a race through child toy-tunnel
UNICEF/2017
Children loved the caterpillar game competing for who will crawl through first.

Children learned important skills for learning, learned to share, take turns and follow directions.

These skills can help children in family, community and school activities.

Medal awarding ceremony at the final event of the young athletes programme
UNICEF/2017
At the final ceremony participants received a medal.

Participants learned that everyone benefits from inclusion of children with disabilities.

All children benefited from team sports including: fitness, self-confidence, social connectedness, and team spirit.

A young girl - participant at the young athletes programme proudly presents her medal to the public at the stands
UNICEF/2017
A girl proudly shows a medal to her parents sitting in the audience.

Children learned that they can do more. 
Families raised their hopes and expectations for their child’s future
.

According to a family survey conducted by “Special Olympics Macedonia” at the end of the initiative, there was 90% increase in their confidence, independence and courage and 40% increase of the children’s motor skills.

Children jointed by popular children’s TV character, Petko sing and dance at the final event of the Young Athletes Programme
UNICEF/2017
Children jointed by popular children’s TV character, Petko sing and dance as they close the final event.

Children showed that inclusive sport is fun for all and that any school or community can get involved.

“Special Olympics Macedonia” developed a Young Athletes Guide to help teachers introduce inclusive sports and physical exercises adopted to the needs of children with disabilities in the mainstream physical education classes. Physical education teachers and special educators met after the event to discuss future steps to introduce Young Athletes programme in their schools.

Young Athletes Programme was implemented as part of the EU funded and UNICEF co-funded Regional Project “Protecting Children from violence and promoting social inclusion of children with disabilities in Western Balkans and Turkey”. This is part of UNICEF’s broader efforts to support the Government and other partners in creating environment for inclusion of children with disabilities.