Physical disabilities affect how the body moves. The most common physical disabilities found in children and young adults include cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, and spinal cord injuries. Depending on the level of impairment, children may need to rely on the use of a wheelchair, walker, crutches or braces for mobility.
Regardless of disability and level of impairment, there is one thing that everyone has in common. Everyone loves to play! The challenge for camps is how to accommodate children with various ability levels.
With appropriate accommodations, all participants can be successful. The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of three popular sports designed especially for children with physical disabilities. General adaptations for sport and physical activities are outlined. Finally, resources related to more in depth sport rules, games, and equipment are provided.
Wheelchair basketball is the most widely played of all wheelchair sports. It is very similar to the game of basketball played by individuals without disabilities.
Similarities to standing basketball:
• Game played on a regulation size court with same height backboards and rims
• Players shoot from regulation free throw and three point lines with points scored the same
• Time limits for in-bounding the ball and crossing half court are the same
• Game starts with jump ball at center
• Infractions (blocking and charging fouls) are called
• Five players are on the floor for each team
• Regulation men's and women's balls are used; youth use women's ball
• Offensive positions (guard center forward) and defensive positions (zone or person-to-person) are used
• Two 20 minute halves for adults and four six minute quarters for youth
Differences from standing basketball:
• Wheelchair is considered part of the player's body
• Play continues if player falls from chair unless the player or others are endangered; if the player cannot right themselves then play is stopped and the coach assists
• A technical foul is called if a player lifts their buttocks from the seat to gain advantage
• It is a traveling violation if a player pushes more than two times in a row without dribbling the ball at least one time, passing or shooting
• A turnover is given if any part of the player or wheelchair contacts the floor or touches outside of the boundary lines
• A lane violation occurs if a player on offense is in the free throw lane for more than four seconds
Sitting volleyball is very similar to regulation volleyball. All participants must play from a seated position on the floor. Players need adequate trunk stability and balance to hold positions and players must be able to move in all directions. See the resources for additional information about power soccer.
Similarities to standing volleyball:
• Utilizes same skills –- set, forearm pass, hit, serve and block
• Regulation ball is used
• Six players on a side
• Similar team formations and player rotation – two front row attackers, one setter, and three back row players
• Ball is put in to play with a serve and three hits are allowed to return the ball
• A block is not counted as a hit
Differences from standing volleyball:
• Size of court is 40 feet by 20 feet
• Attack line is 6 feet, 6 inches from the center line
• Net height is 4 feet for males and 3 feet, 6 inches for females; net is 21 feet log and 2 feet, 6 inches wide
• Rally scoring is used
• Player position is determined by placement of buttocks –- limbs can be out of bounds without penalty
• Players must remain in contact with the floor at all times with any part of their body between the shoulders and buttocks -– no standing is allowed
• Players can momentarily lift buttocks from floor when sliding to a new position
Power Soccer is a fast-paced, competitive sport played by people with a variety of disabilities. It was designed specifically for anyone who can operate an electric wheelchair but anyone using a chair can play.
Due to the recent development of the game, rules and court dimensions vary. Rules are similar to "standing" soccer except the wheelchair itself and foot guards are used to propel the ball.
• Played on regulation sized basketball court
• Over-sized (18" diameter) soccer ball is used
• Two 25-minute halves -- Play continues until there is a possession change or dead ball
• Four players per team –- One goalie and three court players
• Score when ball pushed through goal posts that are 25 feet apart on the end line -- No portion of the chair can cross the goal line
• Minor fouls (holding, charging, clipping) lead to turnover and defensive must back off 10 feet from ball
• Major fouls (ramming, poor sportsmanship) lead to a penalty kick
• A player with three major fouls is ejected from the game
• Turnovers include 100 percent of the ball being out-of-bounds, going out-of-bounds to pass an opposing player, going over the goal line
In all three sports, rules can be modified in a recreation environment to meet the needs and desires of players. For example, participants are to stay seated in their wheelchairs for sitting volleyball. A beach ball instead of a regulation volleyball can be used (see photo).
In power soccer, participants can be allowed to use their hands and various sizes of balls can be used. (see photo). See the resources section for additional information about wheelchair basketball, sitting volleyball, and power soccer.
There are is no "cookbook" that tells service providers how to adapt sport and physical activities for individuals with physical disabilities but here are general suggestions for other sports:
-Use a ramp
-Remain in stationary position
-Use two hands instead of one
-Use shorter, lighter club with larger head
-Use larger balls
-Use tee for all shots
-Shorten distance to hole
-Use Velcro balls and mitts
-Use larger and smaller bats
-Use a batting tee, push off ramp, or lap
-Reduce distances to bases
-Use larger, lighter balls
-Use larger head racquets
-Do not use a net
-Get closer to net on serve
Remember that everyone with physical disabilities loves to play. The benefits are the same as for any person. Camps should never hesitate to modify a sport or game in whatever way possible to accommodate all participants.
For more information regarding wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball:
Davis, R. W. (2002), Inclusion Through Sports
Human Kinetics National Wheelchair Basketball Association: www.nwba.org
World Organization of Volleyball for the Disabled: www.wovd.com
For more information regarding power soccer:
Malone, L. A., Collins, J. M., Thompson, M., & Barfield, J. P. (2004), The Power of Soccer
The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability: www.ncpad.org/videos/
For more information regarding general adaptations for sport and physical activities, and equipment:
PE Central -– www.pecentral.org
Rebecca Woodard, Ph.D., is the Physical Education Undergraduate Coordinator for the Department of Health, Physical Education, & Recreation at Missouri State University, Springfield, Mo. If you have any questions, Rebecca can be reached at email@example.com.