Umberto Gatti can look at the athletes on the Special Olympics Southern California volleyball team he coaches in the South Bay and beam with pride. There’s no judgment or preconceived notions, no barriers based on appearance.
Respect for one another is just a given.
“Seeing our athletes hang out with each other, without thinking about their differences,” Gatti said, “showed me what inclusion really means.”
A Los Angeles resident, Gatti got his first taste of Special Olympics in 2015 when the city hosted the Special Olympics World Games. He served as a volunteer delegation liaison for Italy.
From that experience, it was clear he wanted to continue and stay involved with the Special Olympics movement. That’s when he got in touch with Brian Erickson, a member of the Special Olympics Southern California Board of Directors and a volunteer volleyball coach for the South Bay program.
Gatti’s previous experience with the sport includes a stint on the USC women’s volleyball coaching staff. He credits his time with the Trojans for developing his passion for the sport and polishing his coaching skills. After all, communication and knowledge of the personnel are essential to coaching and it’s no different when it comes to Special Olympics.
“If there is a challenge, it would be to make sure you approach coaching by tailoring your methods to the specific needs of each athlete,” he said. “Every person is different, so it requires a specific attention. As a coach, I love this kind of challenge – which is still nothing compared to what the athletes have to face every day.”
Gatti has coached with the South Bay program for three years, serving as both an assistant for the Bump It Up team and head coach for the Hit and Miss team. In that time, he also has branched out as a coach and partner for golf and a certified track and field coach.
As familiar faces come back each season, the team becomes more like a family, he said. Instead of just coaching the athletes, Gatti sees each moment as a “close, friendly bond” tied together with laughs and shared experiences.
Whether it’s the practices or competitions, Special Olympics “is the most joyful, meaningful and fulfilling part of my week.”
“Honestly, the experience as a whole is the most rewarding thing,” Gatti added. “Seeing the athletes improve day by day not only satisfies you as a coach, but it inspires you as a person.
“There is no other feeling like seeing the smiles and cheers of joy when our athletes accomplish something new.”
The Special Olympics South Bay volleyball athletes will be among the 900 competing at Special Olympics Southern California’s Fall Games on Nov. 11 and 12 in Fountain Valley. Other sports also include bowling (Nov. 12 only), soccer, softball and tennis.
The public is encouraged to support the athletes as our Fans in the Stands. Admission is free. For more information, visit SOSC.org/fallgames.