WHO CAN PLAY WHEELCHAIR RUGBY?

IMPAIRMENT TYPE

To be eligible to play Wheelchair Rugby, individuals must have a disability which affects the arms and legs. Most players have spinal cord injuries with full or partial paralysis of the legs and partial paralysis of the arms. Other disability groups who play include cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, amputations, polio, and other neurological conditions. Men and women compete on the same teams and in the same competitions.

CLASSIFICATION

Classification is a unique and integral part of sport for persons with disabilities. The purpose of classification is to ensure fair and equitable competition at all levels of sport and to allow athletes to compete at the highest level, regardless of individual differences in physical function.
 
Classification systems have been in use in sport for persons with disabilities since the mid-1940s. The early classification systems were based on medical diagnoses, such as spinal cord injury, and were not specific for the unique functional demands of each sport. However, more recent transitions from medical classification to sport-specific classification systems have resulted in functional classification, where class is based on an athlete’s functional abilities specific to the physical demands of each unique sport. Functional classification systems ensure that athletes with a combination of impaired or absent upper and lower limb movement have an opportunity to play the sport and that the strategies and skills of competing teams and athletes, rather than the amount of movement of the athletes, are the factors determining success in competition.

Every wheelchair rugby player is classified based on their disability and undergo a bench test and functional skills test. Each player is given a points value after these tests which will range from 0.5 (lowest) to 3.5 (highest). The four players on court for a wheelchair rugby team must not exceed a total of 8 points. 

The following are incomplete descriptions providing a very general profile of each class. These descriptions are by no means complete, and an athlete may display certain characteristics of higher or lower sport classes.

Class 0.5
Typical role on court Main role is as blocker, not a major ball handler
Chair skills/function
  • Because of extensive proximal shoulder weakness and lack of triceps function forward head bob present when pushing

  • Because of lack of triceps, pulls on back part of the wheel for push stroke using biceps by bending elbows; elbows are also out to side when pushing (called an “unopposed biceps push”)

  • Because of wrist extensor weakness and lack of other wrist and hand function, may use forearm on wheel for starts, turns and stops
Ball skills/function
  • Because of proximal shoulder weakness, arm and wrist weakness, traps direct passes on lap or bats it in from limited range

  • Bats ball using “underhand volleyball pass” for longer range pass or for shorter range pass uses “scoop pass” with the ball forward to the side uses a two-hand toss
Class 1.0
Typical role on court Blocker, may in-bound ball, not a major ball handler
Chair skills/function
  • Because of proximal shoulder weakness and triceps weakness, may have slight head bob when pushing, but has a longer push on wheel (combination of push and pull on back part of wheel)

  • Because of increased strength in upper chest and shoulders, multidirectional start, stop and turn (Can turn in all directions without stopping; easier and faster turning than 0.5 athlete; but because of triceps and wrist weakness, 1.0 athlete may still use forearm)
Ball skills/function
  • Forearm or wrist catch

  • Weak chest pass or forearm pass
Class 1.5
Typical role on court Excellent blocker and also may be occasional ball handler
Chair skills/function Increased shoulder strength and stability allows for more effective and efficient pushing ball handling skills
Ball skills/function
  • Increased shoulder strength and stability allows for some distance and consistency to chest pass

  • Typically has wrist imbalance that causes limited ball security when passing

  • May have asymmetry present in arms. If so, predominantly uses the stronger arm for chair and ball skills
Class 2.0
Typical role on court Increasing role on court as ball handler
Chair skills/function Typically has very strong and stable shoulder that allows for good pushing speed on court
Ball skills/function
  • Effective chest pass with control over moderate distance

  • Because of lack of finger flexion, there is limited ball security against defense during passing

  • Can hold the ball with wrists firmly, but does not have hand function
Class 2.5
Typical role on court Ball handler and fairly fast playmaker
Chair skills/function
  • Because of excellent shoulder strength and stability will see good pushing speed on court

  • Functional grip is used to advantage on the pushrim when challenged

  • May have some trunk control giving better stability in the chair
Ball skills/function
  • Reasonably balanced finger flexion and extension without true grasp and release

  • Dribbles the ball safely, but supinates forearm to scoop the ball onto the lap

  • Due to finger flexion strength capable of performing one-handed overhead pass, but limited accuracy and distance because of imbalance in finger strength

  • Safe two handed catching of passes, usually scooping ball to lap. May catch passes single handed and scoop to lap or chest

  • Improved ball security compared to 2.0 hand due to improved ability to isolate wrist/finger function

  • May have asymmetrical arm or hand function, noticeable with chair and ball handling skills
Class 3.0
Typical role on court Very good ball handler and fast playmaker
Chair skills/function
  • Because of balanced finger function, athlete can grip wheelchair rim increasing pushing speed

  • May have some trunk control giving better stability in the chair
Ball skills/function
  • Because of function in fingers, can control ball in varying planes of movement for passing, dribbling, catching and protecting ball during these activities

  • Can dribble and pass ball well with one hand

  • Multiple dribble one handed with control

  • Stabilizes with the opposite arm to allow greater reach (if the athlete has no trunk function)
Class 3.5
Typical role on court Major ball handler and very fast playmaker. Often primary ball handler and playmaker on team
Chair skills/function Has some trunk function, therefore very stable in wheelchair and able to use trunk for ball and chair skills
Ball skills/function
  • Because of combination of hand and trunk function, usually has excellent ball control with controlled one hand passing for distance and excellent ball security during passing and receiving

  • May have asymmetrical arm or hand function, noticeable with chair and ball handling skills

How do I get classified?

To determine an athlete’s class, classifiers observe athletes as they perform a variety of these movements. Firstly, classifiers test athletes’ limbs for strength, flexibility, sensation, and muscle tone; and athletes’ trunks (abdominal and back muscles) for balance, ability to bend over and rise up and the ability to rotate to both sides (in combination with leg function, if present). The athlete is then observed performing both ball handling and wheelchair skills prior to game play and during game play, if necessary. In addition, the athlete’s execution of ball and wheelchair handling skills are observed on court during actual game play. 

In order to be classified for wheelchair rugby you should first contact the peak disability sports organisation in your state or territory. For the full list of organisations in Australia click here. They will be able to help you find a local classifier who can give you an initial, provisional classification and will also be able to direct you to any local wheelchair rugby competitions in your area. 

Click here to see the IWRF classification master list

For further and more detailed information about Classification please visit the IWRF website.