Powerchair Hockey is a team sport for people with a physical disability. The aim of the game? To score more goals than the opposing team!
Two teams of five players battle against each other and use their own strategies to win. There are two kinds of players. Players who have enough strength to hold a stick in their hand, play with a floorball stick. Others play with a stick that is attached to the wheelchair, a T-stick. The ball is a synthetic, hollow, round, air-filled ball with holes. It’s easier to handle because it’s so light. This is the same ball that is used in floorball.
Each team needs to have at least two T-stick players: one goaltender in front of the goal and one player on the field. Not every handstick player has the same strength. That’s what makes this sport so strategic. Every team develops the best way to get the most out of every player’s physical and strategical strength. By combining all this together, they create the perfect team strategy.
Players drive with a maximum speed of 15km/h on an indoor playing field of 26m long and 16m wide, that is enclosed by plastic boundaries with a height of 20cm. The shape of the playing field resembles an ice hockey field. The corners are rounded and the goal is in the field, so you can also play around it. The goal is 2,5m wide, 20cm high and 40cm deep. The goaltender protects his goal with his chair and T-stick. In front of the goal, there is a goal area. Only the goaltender of that specific goal may enter this area. Not even his teammates can enter it. The goaltender is allowed to drive around the field, but choses to stay in the goal area to protect the goal.
During each match, two referees make sure everything goes by the rules. They run on the field between all those speeding wheelchairs and keep an eye on everything, because anything can happen in just in a blink of an eye.
At the moment, Powerchair Hockey is being played in Europe and Australia. There are national leagues, European Championships and World Championships. Clubs also organize their own tournaments. In North America, they play a different form of Powerchair Hockey. In other countries and parts of the world, the sport is still being developed.
At the beginning the sport was known as Electric Wheelchair Hockey, and it emerged by accident.
In the early seventies a few schools started giving sports lessons involving also the disable students. Because of the limited possibilities for the children, (mainly due to restricted muscle power), the chosen game consisted in using a hockey stick and a hockey ball of lighter material. Because of the similarity with hockey, the same name was used and the word “wheelchair” was added. Later on, the word “electric” was added to indicate that participants make use of an electric wheelchair.
The sport developed quite fast all over Europe, one of the biggest reason for that is that this new sport met and answered the need of many severely disabled people that were looking for a sport dedicated to them.
The first national tournament took place in 1982 in the Netherlands and soon the new sport spread to other European countries, as players found it bolstered their self-esteem and positively influenced their everyday life. In a short time electric wheelchair hockey stopped being mostly a rehabilitation tool and became accepted as a real sport. From that moment on, powerchair hockey experienced a continuous and exponential growth that led to the establishment of an international committee with eleven current members (the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland, Finland, Australia, Slovenia, Spain and the Czech Republic) and detailed Game Rules approved by the international sports authorities. Championships and tournaments at national and international level were organized, resulting in a rapid increase in the number of practitioners and enthusiasts, to the point that hockey is today a legitimate Paralympic discipline.
POWERCHAIR HOCKEY IN ITALY
In Italy, hockey is regulated by the Italian Wheelchair Hockey Federation, which organizes a National Championship, the Italian Cup and the Italian Super Cup. Practice of this sport started in the 90s and grew very quickly, moving from an unofficial Wheelchair Hockey League, set up by a group of athletes linked to Unione Italiana Lotta alla Distrofia Muscolare, the Italian muscular dystrophy society, to the establishment of a real federation recognized nationally by the Italian Paralympic Committee. The 2017/2018 season will see 28 teams take part in the 23rd Italian national championship, divided in the two leagues of Serie A1 and Serie A2. The high number of teams, one of the highest in the world, is an indication of the great public interest in this sport and of the large participation in all federal activities. From October to May sports halls all over Italy are filled with the many supporters of this sport, eager to support their favourite teams in the fight for the conquest of the Scudetto or for promotion to the top league, joined in this by the numerous volunteers who, by giving their time and energy to the sport, are making all this possible.
The Italian Wheelchair Hockey Federation is also known internationally having organized the final stages of the European Championship in Rome in 2005 and those of the World Championship in Lignano Sabbiadoro in 2010, both of which were very well attended by the public.
POWERCHAIR HOCKEY WORLDWIDE
Internationally, powerchair hockey is represented by the IWAS Powerchair Hockey Committee.
From June 2005 the committee has been part of the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation (IWAS). Several official and unofficial competitions at international level have been held since 1987 in various European countries and in the United States, promoting greater knowledge of wheelchair hockey and encouraging the emergence of new teams.
The first official World Championships took place in Finland in 2004, while the second edition was organized by Italy in Lignano Sabbiadoro in 2010. From that moment on the World Championships have been taking place regularly every four years, in Germany in 2014 and again in Italy in 2018.
Since its inception, the powerchair hockey movement has developed considerably and, especially since the first World Championships, there has been a real boom both in terms of the number of athletes and enthusiasts and in terms of the quality of the organization and services offered. Much is being done, in particular, to improve the communication and promotion of this exciting Paralympic sport.