On New Year’s Eve three years ago, Nikki Maksymovich resolved to volunteer more. At the time, she knew she had a passion for service and that she loved children, but she did not know that her decision to coach for Special Olympics New Jersey would be life-changing.

For the Special Olympics New Jersey 2014 Spring Sports Coach of the Season, we have selected Nikki, a passionate coach who never ceases to go the extra mile for her athletes.

Nikki started volunteering as a Young Athletes™ Program (YAP) assistant coach, where she helped athletes ages two through seven learn the motor skills needed for sports. Then she began working with athletes slightly older in the developmental sports coach arena, which assists athletes in their transition to competitive sports. She has since added team coaching to her resume, with her three competitive teams: the Lil’ Kickers in soccer, the Lil’ Warriors in basketball and the Hopewell Valley YMCA track and field team.

Her athletes may be young in age but they are mighty in spirit and have made an impressive showing of energy and athleticism in their first seasons competing together. Nikki admits in her first year coaching basketball, she was nervous that hoops would not be lowered for the games. Her athletes were young and so small, even compared to other athletes in the team’s division, that it seemed they might never score. However, by the end of the season, each athlete on the Lil’ Warriors had scored at least one basket.

Teaching younger athletes with intellectual disabilities about sports on the foundational level can be a challenge, but Nikki meets that challenge with positivity and enthusiasm. She attends coach clinics, asks for advice from other more experience coaches and truly commits herself to the roles of both coach and friend. Even though Nikki does not have a background in sports, right away she was drawn to the social aspect of Special Olympics. At her first Young Athletes session, she recalls, “The energy in the room was amazing. The parents, athletes and volunteers made everything such as positive, inspirational experience. I loved it and instantly made friends with the athletes.”

In the short time that Nikki has been a coach, she has been able to form a community, referring to her competitive teams as her “Lil’ Family.” A self-described shy person, coaching has invigorated Nikki’s self-confidence and she now feels comfortable leading drills at practice, running circle time during Young Athletes sessions and speaking to groups of parents or athletes.

“I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to work with Special Olympics New Jersey. It is such a rewarding experience and I have enjoyed every moment of coaching. I hope that the athletes have been able to take away as much as I have, if not more,” says Nikki. “Although I am new, I hope to spend many years coaching for Special Olympics.”

We know Nikki is someone who will be involved in Special Olympics New Jersey for years to come, and for your commitment to service, we thank and congratulate you, 2014 Spring Sports Coach of the Season.

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