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Popular Wheelchair Sports: Rules, Players Specifications & Wheelchair Type To Use In Game

senior man sitting on a wheelchair playing sports

Last Updated: September 24, 2021

Just because someone is wheelchair-bound doesn’t mean their passion for sports and competition is gone.

I’m glad.

Thanks to the continuous development of wheelchair models, the list of wheelchair sports continues to expand as well, so you never have to miss out!

The fun and competitive nature of sports also provide lots of health benefits for the disabled, so we discussed some of the famous wheelchair sports for you to find one that suits you best.

Wheelchair Sports Brief Backstory

Back in the 1940s, sports were used as rehabilitation for injured war veterans. Serving as a comprehensive medical treatment, this also restored hope and purpose for those who had an active life before their disability.

Eventually, this competitive environment became widespread, where Olympic-style games for the disabled were launched for the first time in 1960, known as the Paralympics.

Later on, organizations started spreading awareness and providing sporting opportunities for the disabled - from manufacturing new wheelchair models to launching sports camps for children.

With its continued growth, wheelchair sports aren’t just a form of rehabilitation anymore, but a recreational and competitive event to show off one’s athletic skills!

Examples Of Popular Wheelchair Sports

Currently, most of the sports we know and love have been adapted for wheelchair user athletes and other disabled persons.

The most popular wheelchair sports include basketball, rugby, and tennis, but there are also others such as fencing, snowboarding, racing, hockey, dance, and so much more!

Basketball

man throwing a basketball ball to the ring from his wheelchair

Basketball is one of the earliest sport adaptations for wheelchairs. Its fast-paced and physically demanding nature promotes teamwork, strength and reflexes, and fun among all players!

Due to its popularity, the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF) was established to govern the sport.

Nowadays, the IWBF has 95 National Organizations for Wheelchair Basketball (NOWBs) and an estimated 100,000 recreational and competitive players worldwide! 

Rules

Wheelchair basketball adapts the major rules of the regular version, with a few modifications due to the wheelchair itself.

For example, the “traveling” violation occurs when a player pushes their wheelchair more than twice while the ball is on their hand or lap. They must dribble the ball before pushing again. 

Player Classification

The sport uses a player classification system to balance the game since each person has varying degrees of disability. Based on a functionality assessment, each player is given a score between 1.0-4.5 in increments of 0.5.

A higher score would mean better functionality on the court - for example, a player with minimal injuries would have a score of 4.0, while someone with severe injuries would have a score of 1.5.

All the active players from each team must have a total score of 15 or lower.

Rugby

young man holding a rugby while sitting on a wheelchair

Wheelchair rugby was created for people with quadriplegia, a condition wherein there’s a partial or total loss of control in all four limbs and torso.

At the time, it served as an alternative to wheelchair basketball, since that needed upper limb control to dribble and shoot the ball.

The sport also has its governing body - the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF). Currently, over 25 countries worldwide practice wheelchair rugby.

As scary as it sounds, wheelchair rugby was originally called murderball because of its aggressive nature. 

Rules

Adapting the fast-paced and competitive environment of able-bodied rugby, wheelchair rugby is played using a volleyball on a basketball court.

Players can score points by crossing the goal line while carrying the ball. For a goal to count, both wheels of the wheelchair have to make it past the line.

Player Classifications

Wheelchair rugby adapts the player classification system of wheelchair basketball, except the score is between 0.5-3.5 and each team must have a total score of 8.0 or below.

Additionally, players must have some form of disability causing a loss of function in both the upper and lower limbs. This may be from spine injuries, amputations, neurological disorders, or other medical conditions.

If your arms are completely functioning, you aren’t eligible for play.

Tennis

young man on wheelchair playing tennis

Wheelchair tennis was created and popularized by Brad Parks, where the sport eventually took off in the competitive scene and became an official event in the Paralympics and the Grand Slam!

The major tournaments of the sport are organized by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Wheelchair Tennis Tour, where they seek to create opportunities for disabled people to be recognized as top athletes.

They offer seven types of tournaments, each with its own prize money. During the 2016 tour, the total prize money was over $2,000,000!

Rules

The sport adapts the major rules, court dimensions, and equipment in regular tennis. The only exception is that wheelchair tennis allows two bounces on the court before the ball is hit.

Tournament Categories

Unlike other wheelchair sports, tennis doesn’t have a player classification.

During sports tournaments, you would typically see Men and Women divisions. However, wheelchair tennis also has a special division called Quads.

The Quads is a mixed division for players with substantial loss of function in at least one upper limb, along with other physical handicaps.

In this division, players are allowed to use powered wheelchairs and other assistive devices, such as taping the racket to their hands.

Famous Wheelchair Athletes

There are lots of disabled athletes that we can draw inspiration from just like the numerous multi-gold medal paralympic athletes. They are living proof that disabilities don’t have to hold back our passion.

A prime example of this is Paul Schulte. He was injured in a car crash when he was 10, then started playing wheelchair basketball when he was 14.

Eventually, he became the co-captain of the U.S. men’s wheelchair basketball team, winning multiple gold medals throughout his career and earning the title of National Wheelchair Basketball Association’s MVP five times!

Not only that, but he also has a degree in Mechanical Engineering, where he has put out his signature line of basketball wheelchairs.

Get to know him more in this video:

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I Need A Specific Wheelchair For Sports?

Yes. Different types of wheelchairs especially in sports tend to be more expensive than regular models since they are made of high-end materials to provide maneuverability, stability, and comfort for athletes.

Sports wheelchairs also have angled wheels and they are custom-fitted to match a player’s body type, while still meeting the competition standards.

There are even specific models for each sport - for example, rugby requires stable and collision-resistant wheelchairs, while nimble and small models are favored in tennis. Athletes at times also use top-rated wheelchair gloves for ease.

On the other hand, racing wheelchairs are designed like Go-karts!

How Do I Sign Up For Official Wheelchair Sports Tournaments?

Whether you want to learn the basics or compete in an official tournament, you need to look for local organizations or the official governing bodies of a particular sport.

For example, basketball has the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF), rugby has the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation (IWRF), and tennis has the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

Conclusion

From darts, skittles, and snooker, the list of wheelchair sports has expanded exponentially, where almost all of the sports we know can now be enjoyed by disabled people.

With its continued rise in popularity, numerous organizations have spread awareness and created opportunities for wheelchair-bound athletes to be recognized for their abilities.

Whether you enjoy the fun and social aspect of sports, the health benefits, or the serious competition, we hope you can reach the new heights that this type of sport has to offer!

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