The Transformative Power of Adaptive Sports Programs

For many years, individuals with disabilities have been using sports as a therapeutic tool to overcome serious injury or illness and as a means of recovery. They fight their personal battles on the track, in the pool and on the court to send a very powerful message to themselves, to their families and to the public that serious injury or illness does not have to interrupt the pursuit of a meaningful and productive life.

Recognizing this, the Department of Defense, in coordination with the United States Olympic Committee, created the Warrior Games, an inter-service adaptive sports competition to showcase the resilient spirit of today’s wounded, ill and injured service members. Athletes from all branches of the military compete against each other in a range of adaptive sporting events. Having overcome debilitating injuries and medical conditions, the service members embody the warrior spirit and serve as role models for other survivors worldwide.

The United Kingdom’s Prince Harry founded the Invictus Games after attending the 2013 Warrior Games in Colorado. He saw the impact that sports played in the recovery of service members and was inspired to launch a similar event designed for wounded, ill and injured military members and veterans from around the world that uses sports to promote healing and support rehabilitation.

Warrior Games, Invictus Games: Sports as medicine

Many athletes say that participating in adaptive sports boosts their self-esteem, improves their mental and physical health, and makes them stronger and more resilient, generally. But not until recently have scientists begun to specifically and purposefully measure the effects of adaptive sports programs to determine their role in rehabilitation.

See these resilient competitors in action! Check out featured videos, stories, photo essays and more at the following DoD Special Reports Pages:

The DoD Special Reports Page for the 2018 Invictus Games Sydney will be available this October. Learn more about the competitors who will compete on the United States team this fall.

A holistic approach to recovery, rehabilitation and community reintegration

Adaptive sports and other reconditioning activities help service members come to terms with traumatic injuries or illness by inspiring them to realize what is still achievable by focusing on ability.

Adaptive sports promotes holistic growth and achievement by addressing several factors, including:

  • Being part of a team promotes a sense of belonging and peer support, of knowing you’re not alone in your struggle.
  • The opportunity to renew the power of service to country and strong desire to pursue a higher purpose that have always inspired service members in combat and life.
  • Competition rekindles the sense of passion and determination of the warrior spirit that is part of a service member’s DNA, the courage to move forward despite barriers and obstacles.
  • The chance to be celebrated and recognized, supported by family, friends and people from around the world, boosts self-worth and self-efficacy.

Adaptive sports engages service members and veterans mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically and socially – finding hope and strength through their common experiences.

According to the Department of Defense’s Office of Warrior Care, the benefits of physical activity for ill and injured service members also include reduced stress, increased quality of life, lower blood pressure, weight management and enhancement of the rehabilitative process.

Finding an adaptive sports program

The Office of Warrior Care oversees the Military Adaptive Sports Program, which provides reconditioning activities and competitive athletic opportunities to all wounded, ill and injured service members. The program empowers wounded, ill and injured service members through physical and mental activities that engage, stimulate and inspire recovery.

Learn more about the military services’ wounded, ill and inured programs:

In addition, the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of National Veterans Sports Programs & Special Events co-sponsors adaptive sports clinics and competitive events for disabled veterans of all ages and abilities. This includes the Grants for Adaptive Sports Programs, which provides grant funding to organizations to increase and expand the quantity and quality of community-based adaptive sports activities for veterans with disabilities and members of the armed forces. To find out more, visit