Everyone Can Play!

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 is how to accommodate people 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 flooror 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.

General Rules:

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 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, and you 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 rebeccawoodard@missouristate.edu.