Adapted Wheelchair Basketball For Handicapped Children


Sports command more enthusiasm from the general population than any other leisure-time activity. For the able-bodied competitor it is essential that the regular rules of sports and games be followed when possible. However, when sports are used as part of a treatment or rehabilitation program, partial or complete modification of established rules is frequently necessary and is quite legitimate.

With the sick or injured person, cooperation is an often-desired objective of sports participation. Yet it is the very nature of sports that they involve a sense of competition. This element needs to be controlled and restrained but not eliminated. Unmitigated competition can easily turn into conflict and the activity lose all therapeutic value. The well-directed sporting event is characterized by friendly competition and the development of mature judgment, self-confidence, and a temporary forgetfulness of his handicap by the patient.

A cardinal principle of physical education is that activities be stopped at the high point of the participants' interest. A physical exercise can easily become tedious if it is overworked and repeated to an extreme. Variety, balance, and limited pursuit of an activity at any one time characterize good program planning.

Small-group sports usually feature one to four, or slightly more, persons. The action and procedures of these sports are more complex than is the case in games of low organization, and entail more involved rules. A certain amount of neuromuscular coordination is necessary for the mastery of these sports. Since large groups of handicapped children of generally equal physical ability are infrequently encountered at any one time and location, small-group sports activities offer definite programming possibilities for this population. For satisfying participation they, like all team sports, require the coordination and cooperation of team members. Of course, any handicapped person engaged in strenuous team activities should have medical approval.

Player Classification, and Team Balance

In competitive activities for handicapped children as well as for their nonhandicapped counterparts equalization of competition through classification is most necessary. Specific reasons for this equalization are:

  • to encourage participation by children with more severe types of disabilities.
  • to encourage the formation of new teams by providing competition within their own level of disability
  • to counter any tendency for a team to be composed entirely of players with lesser disabilities
  • to maintain a high level of both player and spectator interest.

A classification scheme that has been used successfully is:
Class 1 Complete spinal paraplegia at T-9 level or above, or a comparable disability.
Class 2 Complete spinal paraplegia at the level of T-10 or below, or a comparable disability.
Class 3 All other disabilities.
Each class is given a numerical value or factor as follows:
Class 1-1 value point
Class 2-2 value points
Class 3-3 value points

At no time in a game shall a team have players participating whose total value points are greater than thirteen or have more than three Class 3 players on the floor at the same time.

Guidelines for Recreation Leaders

  1. Each participant should be regarded as if he had no limitations, and be encouraged to produce the best of which he is capable.
  2. Normal standards of social behavior should be expected from the handicapped, including fair play and following the rules of the game.
  3. Imagination should be used in the selection, adaptation, and invention of recreation activities which are especially suitable for the physically or mentally handicapped.
  4. Group activities that require cooperation should be presented and encouraged.
  5. The handicapped person should be allowed to move at his own pace.

In conformity with these guidelines procedures for conducting a program of wheelchair basketball are described.

Wheelchair Basketball

It is recommended that a court 50 ft. by 25 ft. be marked off for children, with portable adjustable baskets starting at a height of 6 ft. to permit the participation of the more severely handicapped children ( and ). The foul line will be 10 ft. from the out-of-bounds line.

Equipment: Sports-type wheelchairs which are manufactured by Everest and Jennings are recommended. Either a standard or a junior model is suggested:

8 U 26 - 76 - 0124 - 36LW - 2550 - 7007 - 511
Standard 8" premier casters
Web-type heel loops
Adult frame narrowed to 16"
Equipped with wide spacers
Old-style lever-type brakes


8 - JU 26 - 76 - 0124 - 36LW - 2550 - 7007 - 511
Standard 8" premier casters
Web-type heel 1oops
Old-style lever-type brakes

The height of the seat must not be more than 21 inches from the floor, and that of the foot platform bumper must be 4 and 7/8 inches on center from the floor. Seat cushions are permitted in the chair only for specific medical and therapeutic reasons. Under these circumstances, a medium-weight foam-rubber cushion is permitted (2 in. maximum thickness for Class 3 players and 4 in. maximum thickness for all other players). A 1 and 1/2 in. minimum-width heel strap must be attached to the foot-platform bars.

A chair is considered to be a part of the player. General rules of contact in regular basketball (charging, blocking, etc.) apply.

For any jump ball, each jumper shall remain firmly seated in his chair, i.e., does not lift his buttocks off the seat by using his arm or leg or force of movement. His chair shall be in the jumping circle at an angle of 45 degrees to his own basket. A violation should be called when any player raises his body from any part of his chair.

Rules and Definitions

Players and Substitutes

Each team consists of five players, one of whom serves as captain. Players should be individuals with severe leg or lower body disabilities such as leg amputations, or paraplegia, or poliomyelitis who would benefit from participation in wheelchair basketball and who would not have an opportunity to play except in a wheelchair. In cases where a player has a leg which protrudes beyond the foot platform because of knee fusion or some other medical reason, this player should be examined and properly advised prior to the beginnning of the game. Such a player need not be barred from competition so long as he does not use his protruding leg to obtain a physical advantage over another player or create a hazard to others.


To execute a dribble, a player may:

  1. Wheel his chair by 2 pushes on the wheels (one hand or two hands in either direction) followed by one or more taps of the ball to the floor, after which he may shoot, pass or start pushing again. Pushing more than twice in succession with one or two hands in either direction constitutes a traveling violation and the ball is awarded to the other team out of bounds.
  2. Wheel his chair and bounce the ball simultaneously just as a player may run and bounce the ball simultaneously in regular basketball.
  3. An air dribble is illegal in wheelchair basketball.

The Pivot

It is legal to pivot as in regular basketball. A pivot takes place when a player who is holding the ball turns his chair to the left or right in a given place without progressing in any specific direction. This may be done:

  1. By a player who is in motion braking one of his two wheels without imparting forward or backward direction to the wheels. This is not a push and therefore could occur after the player with the ball has pushed twice in executing a dribble;
  2. By a player with the ball pushing twice with one or two hands, thus executing both pushes to which he is entitled before passing, dribbling, or shooting the ball. In this case the player cannot use further pushes in this play sequence.

Live Ball and Dead Ball

For any jump ball, the ball must be tapped by at least one of the jumpers or the official shall toss the ball again. The ball must be tapped when it is on its downward flight after the official has tossed it to its highest point. The players shall not leave the jumping circle until the ball has been tapped, or catch the jump ball, or touch it more than twice.

For any violations of this rule, the opposing team will be awarded the ball out of bounds.

Violations and Penalties


A player is considered out-of-bounds when he or any part of his wheelchair touches the floor on or outside the boundary.

Time Limits

An offensive player shall not remain more than six seconds in that part of the free-throw lane between the end line and the farthest edge of the free-throw line while his team controls the ball. Allowances must be made if the wheels of offensive and defensive players should lock together or when a player who, having been in the restricted area for less than six seconds, dribbles in or pivots to throw for a goal. Note: When an offensive player has only one wheel touching the lane boundary line, the six-second rule applies. The six-second rule does not apply when the ball is dead or is in flight because the team is not then in control.

Tilting Chair

A team loses possession of the ball when a player leans forward in his chair so that the chair tilts and the footrests, his hands, or either of his feet touch the floor while he is gaining possession or retrieving the ball. The ball is awarded to a nearby opponent at the out-of-bounds spot nearest the violation.

Player Falling Out of his Chair

A player may not leave or fall out of his chair to gain or maintain possession of the ball or to gain any other advantage:

  1. If a player accidentally falls out of his chair directly into the line of play the official shall call time immediately. The ball is awarded to the team in possession out-of-bounds at a point nearest to the infraction.
  2. If a player accidentally falls out of his chair not directly in the line of play when a potential scoring play is in progress - time will be called only if the fallen player needs help, and then after the play in progress has been terminated (as when a shot is made or missed). If the basket is missed, time out will be called and a jump ball between any two opponents will ensue. If the basket is made, time out will be called and the game will continue as when any basket is made. No time out will be called if, in the judgment of the officials, a fallen player needs no help and has regained or is about to regain his position as a player.
  3. Play is stopped immediately when an injury is anticipated to a seated or fallen player.
  4. A team loses possession if, in the judgment of the officials, a player deliberately falls out of his wheelchair to gain or maintain possession of the ball.

Fouls and Penalties

Personal Foul

A player shall not contact an opponent or an opponent's wheelchair with his hand unless such contact is made only with the opponent's hand while it is on the ball and is incidental to an attempt to play the ball.

Because of the nature of the game, the calling of negligible contact between wheelchairs is up to the discretion of the officials. Intentional chair contact by a player to affect the progress or position of another player while moving in for a try at goal is a charge. Contact after the ball is dead is unsportsmanlike conduct.

Physical Advantage Foul

Because of the varying manifestations and degrees of disability among the participants a basic rule that all players stay firmly seated in the wheelchair at all times and not use a functional leg or leg stump for physical advantage over an opponent is strictly enforced. Any infraction of this rule, such as a player raising himself out of his chair, or using his heel on the floor to maneuver the chair (in rebounding or a jump ball, for example) constitutes a physical advantage foul (PAF) and is so recorded in the official score book. Three such fouls automatically disqualify a player from the game. A "PAF" is treated as a technical foul. The offended team is awarded a free throw and, after the throw, is given the ball out-of-bounds at center court.

Back Court Foul

A defensive player who commits a personal foul at his opponent's back court shall be charged with a back court foul. The offended player shall be awarded two free throws. Note: When a free throw is taken, the large wheels of the chair must be behind and not over the line.

Learning Factors


Motivation is essential for efficient learning. Judicious use of effective rewards will encourage children to put increased effort into their projects.

Learning Conditions

Motivation in itself does not insure that learning will take place automatically. Certain other conditions must be met including exercise, effect, knowledge of results, recency, and intensity.

Teaching Basic Basketball

The recreation instructor, specialist, or physical therapist should teach the same basic passing and shooting fundamentals as in regular basketball, with the following modifications:

  1. In shooting, the arc of trajectory is more accentuated due to the player's sitting position in the wheelchair. Hence, the basketball must be shot with more arch and lots of wrist snap.
  2. The shooter's eyes are focused above the rim and on a prescribed block on the backboard.

Teaching Special Skills

The primary zone defense we have used at the Pennsylvania Rehabilitation Center is 1-2-2 ( ). Of course, the zone defense is used in relationship to your opponent's offense.

If the opponent is a fast-breaking team, it might be advantageous to switch to a man-for-man defense. Advantages of the zone defense are:

  1. It affords maximum protection in the area close to the basket, making it difficult for the opponents to obtain clear shots.
  2. It strengthens rebounding.
  3. Fast breaks are more easily started from zone formations.
  4. It conserves energy.
  5. Fouls are committed less frequently. A switch to a zone defense is usually wise when a key player has accumulated several fouls.

Miscellaneous Aids

  • It is advisable to use children who are more severely disabled at the forward positions.
  • Children with good balance should be used for bringing the ball up court.
  • The two fastest children should play out front on zone defense.
  • The child with good-to-exceptional balance should play at the front of the key on defense.
  • In wheelchair basketball the principal and most reliable offensive maneuvers are screening, picking, and set-shots.
  • Cute plays should be avoided. With ten wheelchairs moving on a basketball court, just bringing the ball up court presents enough difficulty.
  • On zone defense, the offensive unit should hold out for a split second to facilitate rebounding.

Warm-Up Drills

  1. Lay-ups constitute a good warm up. The instructor places himself in a position approximately five feet from the backboard and has the team wheel in on a 45-degree angle to the basket. Players start near half-court first on one side then on the other and repeating down the middle. The instructor should make sure that passes are chest high and also use bounce passes.
  2. Another good drill is where each player picks a buddy and they position themselves 25 feet apart facing each other. The ball is rolled along the floor towards the buddy who reaches out to bring it towards the rim and up and around into the side of the arm. The drill is repeated, each player taking turns.
  3. The team lines up in a semicircle with one child in the middle ten feet from the others. This player begins passing the ball to each member of the team in succession, gradually increasing the tempo. A variation on this drill is to use two basketballs. Each child takes a turn being center man in this drill.
  4. The next drill is called a finger-tipping drill. One child is in the center and four other children are ten feet away in a circle. The basketball is passed to the child in the center who catches it on his fingers and passes it back to the next child who repeats the process until everyone has tried this for four rounds, after which the child in the center changes places with someone from the circle.


Very little has been written concerning wheelchair basketball. The author is grateful for the opportunity to convey some information on this activity and hopes that many children throughout the world will benefit.

Descriptors: Basketball; wheelchair; handicapped children; adapted sports.

Recreation and Physical Education Instructor, Norristown, Pennsylvania