Classification in Wheelchair Rugby

Athlete evaluation is the process an athlete goes through for assessment of impairments and the impact of these impairments on wheelchair and ball activities in wheelchair rugby. Athlete evaluation consists of muscle strength testing and sport activity testing carried out in a cooperative process with the athlete by certified USWRA classifiers who are formally trained and professionally certified in physical therapy, occupational therapy and/or medicine..

To be eligible to compete in Wheelchair Rugby, an athlete must have an impairment/s caused by a verifiable and permanent health condition that impacts the performance of fundamental activites of the sport.   Wheelchair rugby offers sport opportunities to athletes with impaired muscle power, limb deficiency, short stature, impaired passive range of motion, and impaired coordination (such as hypertonia, ataxia, athetosis).

The current classification system (revised in 2010) was developed to measure impairments in muscle power and limb deficiency. Sport classes for athletes in wheelchair rugby with other eligible impairment types is based more on expert observation of the impact of these impairments on sport specific activity and performance on court. The International Wheelchair Rugby Federation, in the interest of continuing the worldwide growth of the sport, elected to include athletes with these additional impairment types, which are not yet measured as objectively as muscle weakness. Then again, the wheelchair rugby classification system is not stagnant and research in improving the system for athletes with other eligible impairments is currently underway.

Comment:  The Paralympic Movement offers sport opportunities for athletes that have a primary impairment that belongs to one of the following 10 ‘eligible’ impairment types: impaired muscle power, impaired passive range of movement, limb deficiency, leg length difference, short stature, hypertonia, ataxia, athetosis, visual impairment and intellectual impairment.

Classification Process

Athlete evaluation consists of; (1) verifying if the athlete has an eligible impairment, (2) assessing the severity of impairment and confirming the athlete meets minimum impairment criteria to play rugby, and (3) determining the impact of impairment on the fundamental activities of wheelchair rugby to give a sport class.

Eligibility Tests

These tests will determine if an athlete has an eligible impairment type and that the severity of impairment is sufficient to proceed on to the rest of athlete evaluation. The outcome of this step could be the athlete is not eligible (NE) and will not move forward to the athlete evaluation. This step should be conducted after the interview process and prior to the full impairment assessment, or bench test

Impairment Tests (Physical Assessment or Bench Test)

This physical assessment to measure the level of impairment includes trunk tests, manual muscle tests, and hand tests (if appropriate). Athletes will be requested to remove uniform tops to observe and evaluate muscle function and movements during the evaluation. This part of the evaluation will be completed in the athlete’s sports chair. Female athletes should wear appropriate underclothing to permit removal of their uniform shirt. The athlete may also be asked to transfer to other surfaces for testing, such as a treatment table, floor mat or chair.

Trunk Tests

Assessment of the trunk and lower extremities is usually done out of the sports chair with the athlete sitting on a table or plinth. The possible impairment scores for the trunk are 0, 0.5, 1.0 or 1.5. (This test may be done first following the interview and prior to other impairment tests, as part of the assessment of eligibility.

Sport Specific Tests (Technical Assessment or Functional Movement Tests)

The extent of activity limitation and impact on sport performance is confirmed by sport specific tests that simulate wheelchair and ball activities and by novel non-sport activities to estimate the influence of training. In this part of the evaluation,, the classifiers evaluate activities in a non-competitive environment, and in some cases a simulated competitive environment; and with and without equipment, such as gloves and taping,  to estimate the effect of equipment.. Pushing, turning, stopping, starting, holding the chair against resistance, dribbling, passing, and rimming or picking the ball up from the floor are some of the activities that may be evaluated

Observation Assessment (Observation On-Court)

The last step in athlete evaluation is the observation of sport specific tasks on-court during training and/or play. The athlete may be observed performing ball handling and wheelchair activities on court during actual game play and under challenged situations. If observation is necessary and observation during competition is not possible, this step may be completed prior to game play by watching training activities

Sport Classes in Wheelchair Rugby

The objective of classification in wheelchair rugby is to (1) determine eligibility to participate in wheelchair rugby and (2) to group athletes into one of seven sport classes allowed for competition (0.5, 1.0, 1.5, 2.0, 2.5, 3.0 and 3.5). The higher the sport class number, the less severity of impairment and the lesser impact on sport specific activities. Each sport class has a distinct profile and athletes in each class often play specific roles on the court, although there can be some overlap in the adjacent sport classes.

All parts of athlete evaluation are considered when the classification panel decides on the athletes’ sport class. At the completion of the impairment tests and the sport specific tests, the classification panel gives the athlete an entry sport class. This sport class allows the athlete to take the court and play. After the conclusion of the observation assessment, the classification panel confirms the athlete’s sport class, and the classification card is made or updated.

Comment: In athletes with impairments other than muscle weakness, impairments such as passive range of motion, sensation, and muscle tone may be considered in the athlete’s ability to perform the fundamental wheelchair and ball activities during sport specific testing and during on court observation. However, at this time, these impairments are not measured in the classification system.

Refer to the most current USWRA classification rules for the USWRA classification form and the method used for the classification panel to calculate sport class.