College Sport Management Student Perceptions Regarding Special Olympics Curriculum and Service Learning


This pre-test/post-test study evaluated college sport management student (N = 21) perceptions of Special Olympics North America curriculum/field experience. Pre-event and post-event values indicate that students had positive perceptions. Significant individual effects were found for General Orientation, Facilities and Safety, and Event Management. The strongest correlate relationships were for General Orientation with Volunteerism (52% predictive), Event Management (50%), and Athletes (53%), and Volunteerism with Event Management (54%) and Athletes (62%). Overall, results indicate that service learning can be implemented successfully into a sport management curriculum, field experience is an effective practical experience, and feedback from students should be used to improve teaching.


The service-learning/practical-experience student is an emerging professional who must guide the course of his/her own career. This is the opportunity for a student to apply professional knowledge and expertise in the field under the direction and supervision of a qualified practitioner. Such a student should receive varied experiences ranging from leadership to program development. The variety and intensity of experiences should allow the student to assess knowledge and skills in relation to career goals. The student should be challenged in a manner in which both strengths and weaknesses are evident. Such experiences can only be assured through careful planning by the student and by the agency supervisor (Overton, 2005).

The Special Olympics North America University (SONA) has developed a curriculum which consists of Special Olympics courses that can be incorporated into university curricula. These include General Orientation and Event Management courses within the Special Olympics Coach Education System and Games Management Training program. Through the Special Olympics University Curriculum, universities play a renewed role in training coaches and sport managers. The SONA curriculum is endorsed by the American Alliance of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (AAHPERD) and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE). Currently, nine universities have adopted this unique curriculum concept.

While service-learning implementation has increased in higher education curricula throughout the United States, the concept has been around for quite a while (Dewey, 1938). A sport management curriculum could benefit from incorporating service-learning based Special Olympic programs into university curricula. Event management, budgeting, concessions, and personnel management are examples of areas of experience that an organization such as the Special Olympics could provide a student volunteer. Equally important is that this cooperative program would provide sport management students with insight into how a service-oriented agency such as the Special Olympics is managed (Daughtrey, Gillentine, & Hunt, 2002). Many professors utilize academic-based service learning in their classes to provide students with practical experience. In fact, service learning has increased in popularity in higher education due to the many perceived benefits of the method.

Perceptions of the sport management students participating in the SONA curriculum are paramount in the success of the program. Feedback can assist in improving the overall structure of the service-learning experience. Thus, the research questions under investigation seek to first determine college sport management student perceptions regarding sport management Special Olympics training, and Special Olympics field experience. Second, they identify individual effects (individual differences) and determine whether perceptions differ in pre- versus post-event (situation effects) with regard to selected areas of sport management, including general orientation of the SONA training, volunteerism, adequacy of facilities and athlete safety, event management, and event contribution to competition and the well being of athletes, at a specific field-experience event. Third, they identify correlate relationships between perceptions of the selected areas of sport management.



The study utilizes a pre-test/post-test design. Participants were recruited from two facilities management courses, one for undergraduate students, the other for graduate students, during the 2006 spring term at a historically-black college and university in south central Virginia. Sport management majors are the only students eligible to take these courses. The pre-test was administered before students had Special Olympics North America University curriculum (SONA) training. The post-test was administered to those who had completed the pre-test, all modules of the 3-module SONA curriculum, and the sport management field-experience requirement (Module 3) at a specific Special Olympics regional track meet. Pre- and post-test surveys were administered to all participants by a sport management professor.

SONA curriculum description and administration

The Special Olympics of North America, in conjunction with selected higher education institutions, collaborate with sport management faculty to implement the SONA curriculum within selected sport management courses. Currently, there are nine universities throughout the United States that participate in this program. Module 1 of the SONA curriculum is a Special Olympics orientation, Module 2 is application of sport management principles to Special Olympics events, and Module 3 is a Special Olympics field experience. The sport management professors coordinated their teaching efforts and standardized their delivery of Module 2 to ensure that the content delivery was the same between the classes participating in the study. Completing the SONA curriculum and a sport management field experience at a Special Olympics event were course requirements of respective undergraduate and graduate courses.

Survey development and administration

The study survey was developed by one of the sport management professors who taught Module 2 and who had directed Module 3. The survey was reviewed for content validity by the Special Olympics administrator who taught Module 1. Section 1 of the survey assessed demographic characteristics, Section 2 was composed of six subscales that assessed perceptions regarding General Orientation (e.g., student preparedness, sport management knowledge, and organization of training staff), Volunteerism (e.g., “making a difference” as a volunteer, whether volunteer efforts would be appreciated), Facilities and Safety (adequacy of facilities and athlete safety), Event Management (e.g., job descriptions, operating plans, games meeting schedule), and Athletes (e.g., fair competition for athletes, whether event participation contributes to health and wellness of athletes). The content of the subscales was adapted from the SONA curriculum and from the mission statement of the Special Olympics of North America Curriculum Guide, 2005). Each subscale score was a mean score of five questions that were individually scored using a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree, 3 = neutral, 5 = strongly agree). The university-affiliated institutional review board approved the project. Signed informed consent was obtained from all participants. The survey was pilot tested by four graduate sport management students. Based on their responses, modifications to the survey were not necessary.

Statistical analyses

Analyses were performed using JMP IN® software, version 5.0 (Sall, Creighton, & Lehman, 2005). The descriptive analysis included means, standard deviations, and frequency distributions. Item reliability was evaluated using Cronbach’s α. Subsequent data analysis involved Pearson x2 and one-way analysis of variance with a comparison for each pair using Student’s t. Multivariate pairwise correlations were used to evaluate relationships between subscales. A significant level of .05 was used for statistical analysis.


The total sample recruited included 45 students, which represented all students from the undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in one of two facility management courses. Overall, 21 students completed the study, which was a 47% participation rate. The average (M ± SD) age of the participants was 22.3 ± 3.2 years, 71% of participants (n = 15) were male, all were African American, and academic classification was fairly evenly distributed between undergraduate (58%, n = 12) and graduate students.

Cronbach’s α was used to evaluate item reliability for each subscale score in Section 2. The subscales internal consistency ranged from .73 to .90, indicating an acceptable correlation of ranked values among subscale parameters.

Regarding research question 1, participant perceptions of sport management Special Olympics training and a Special Olympics field experience, are reported in Table 1. Pre- and post-event values indicate that students had positive perceptions for all sport management subscales evaluated; mean scores ranged from 4.0 to 4.6 for all subscale scores. A score of 4 indicated participants “agreed” with statements, whereas a score of 5 indicated participants “strongly agreed.”

Table 1: College Sport Management Student Perceptions Regarding Special Olympics Training and a Special Olympics Field ExperienceNote: M ± SD. N = 21. * Each subscale was a mean score based on responses to five questions that were individually scored using a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree, 3 = neutral, 5 = strongly agree).

Sport Management Subscale* Pre-event score Post-event score
General Orientation 4.2 ± 0.6 4.4 ± 0.5
Volunteerism 4.2 ± 0.7 4.4 ± 0.5
Facilities and Safety 4.4 ± 0.6 4.4 ± 0.5
Event Management 4.0 ± 0.7 4.3 ± 0.7
Athletes 4.4 ± 0.6 4.6 ± 0.3

In reference to question 2, individual and situation effects of student perceptions are reported in Table 2. Significant individual effects indicate that there were significant differences between perceptions of different participants, whereas significant situation effects indicate that perceptions of participants, as a group, differed from pre- to post-test. Significant individual effects were found for General Orientation, Facilities and Safety, and Event Management. The researchers identified no significant situation effects for any of the subscales.

Table 2: Individual and Situational Effects for College Sport Management Student Perceptions Regarding Special Olympics Training and a Special Olympics Field ExperienceNote: N = 21. Each subscale was a mean score based on responses to five questions that were individually scored using a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree, 3 = neutral, 5 = strongly agree).

Sport Management Subscale* df MS F p
General Orientation
Individual effect 20 0.48 3.40 < .01
Situation effect 1 0.50 3.60 .07
Error 20 0.14
Individual effect 20 0.55 1.93 .07
Situation effect 1 0.21 0.76 .40
Error 20 0.28
Facilities and Safety
Individual effect 20 0.41 2.80 .01
Situation effect 1 < 0.01 0.01 .94
Error 20 2.94
Event Management
Individual effect 20 0.69 2.5 .03
Situation effect 1 0.86 3.0 .10
Error 20 0.28
Individual effect 20 0.26 1.55 .17
Situation effect 1 0.42 2.50 .13
Error 20 0.17

Concerning question 3, Special Olympics training and field experience perceptions correlate relationships; all subscales assessed had statistically significant direct correlate relationships with all other subscales (see Table 3). The strongest correlate relationships (rS2 x 10) were for General Orientation with Volunteerism (52% predictive of each other), Event Management (50%), and Athletes (53%), and for Volunteerism with Event Management (54%) and Athletes (62%).

Table 3: Correlate Relationships Regarding Perceptions of Special Olympics Training and a Special Olympics Field Experience Among College Sport Management StudentsNote: N = 21. Multivariate pairwise correlations were used to evaluate relationships between sport management subscales.

Sport Management Volunteerism Facilities and Safety Event Management Athletes
General Orientation rS = .72
p = < .01
rS = .46
p = .04
rS = .70
p = < .01
rS = .73
p = < .01
Volunteerism rS = .55
p = < .01
rS = .74
p = < .01
rS = .79
p = < .01
Facilities and Safety rS = .56
p = .02
rS = .52
p = < .01
Event Management rS = .59
p = < .01


The primary purpose of a service-learning project is to provide a work-study-learning program to further the professional development of students. Agencies electing to accept students in a service-learning environment have an obligation to maintain reputations for professional service. Thus, the general orientation to a service-learning project is critical. Results from this study indicate that the general-orientation portion of a service-learning project sets the tone in preparing the student for volunteer work. It is evident that this module in the curriculum is important in creating a solid base and understanding of the overall service-learning experience. Furthermore, the general orientation portion of the curriculum had positive correlate relationships with several of the subscale areas included in the Special Olympics curriculum modules. Particularly, the Event Management, Athlete, and Volunteerism subscales had direct correlate relationships with General Orientation. Similarly, Volunteerism had positive correlate relationships with the Athlete and Event Management subscales. Thus, these results suggest that the sport management student will recognize that volunteer, philanthropic organizational events are viable career options in the sport industry. In addition, this study indicates that future sport management professionals will be aware of the importance of event-management planning and the significant role volunteerism plays in the development of a successful service-learning event.

The present study allowed the students the opportunity to participate in a sport management event and to evaluate sport management concepts, including event management, volunteerism, athlete mentoring, and facility planning. From an academician’s viewpoint, the significant individual effects indicate areas a faculty member may concentrate in so as to improve the overall effectiveness of the service-learning project. Because students have varied perceptions, an instructor may use open-ended discussions to educate students regarding different sport management areas that are paramount to the success of a service-learning project.

Service learning has been a popular pedagogical tool in academic programs for years. Recently, the concept has gained popularity in other forms, such as class projects and internships (Petkus, 2000). The implications of this study are that, because students have positive perceptions regarding service-learning projects, the projects can be implemented successfully into a sport management curriculum. In fact, specialized internship/field experiences with organizations such as the Special Olympics can work efficiently within an already existing sport management program. When implementing service-learning components into existing sport management curriculums, it is important to receive feedback from the students. This will assist the instructor in evaluating the effectiveness of the curriculum and subsequent service-learning experiences.


Daughtrey, C., Gillentine, A., & Hunt, B. (2002). Student collaboration in community sporting activities. American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 15, 33-36.

Dewey, J. (1938) Experience and Education, New York: Collier Books.

Overton, R. (2005). Sport Management Internship Manual. Ettrick, Virginia: Virginia State University.

Petkus, E. (2000). A theoretical and practical framework for service-learning in marketing: Kolb’s experiential learning cycle. Journal of Marketing Education, 22(1), 64-70.

Sall, J., Creighton L., & Lehman A. (2005). JMP IN® Start Statistics. Southbank, Australia: Thomson Brooks/Cole.

Special Olympics Special Olympics of North America Curriculum Guide (2005). Washington, D.C.