Athletes at the Special Olympics USA Games had a chance to learn how accessible, inclusive and fun pickleball can be as USA Pickleball and the Special Olympics brought the sport to them June 5-12 in Orlando, Florida.
The 2022 Special Olympics USA Games take place every four years in a different city, bringing together more than 5,500 athletes and coaches from all 50 states. The athletes have proven that they are the best at their sport in their home state and come to Special Olympics USA Games in hopes of bringing home the gold medal.
Although pickleball is not yet an official sport of the USA Games, this opportunity showcased how fun the sport is in hopes that athletes will bring the excitement back home. After athletes played their respective sports during the day, Special Olympics USA Games had arranged fun activities for athletes, coaches, and teams during downtime in the Athlete Village. The pickleball courts had lines of people waiting to play and even more spectating.
USA Pickleball worked alongside Dave Vander Weide, USA Pickleball Florida Central District Ambassador, in coordinating the setup and volunteers for the two courts in the Athlete Village. Vander Weide received the support of 40 volunteers, who recognized the opportunity to work with the athletes and teach them pickleball.
The volunteers kept it light and fun when introducing this community to pickleball.
“The athletes who got involved were enthused and very eager to play,” Vander Weide said.
Volunteers adapted to the different abilities of each athlete. While playing, some groups would count how many dinks in a row their court could get, and some athletes progressed to the point where they were keeping score and playing games. Some players came back every night and you could see their impressive progress.
Vander Weide’s fellow volunteers praised the experience as “instantly gratifying.” The eagerness and desire of the athletes wanting to play every night in the Olympic Athlete Village exemplified how pickleball would be a powerful addition as an official sport of the Special Olympics USA Games.