The Future of Classification in Wheelchair Sports: Can Data Science and Technological Advancement Offer an Alternative Point of View?

in International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance
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Purpose: Classification is a defining factor for competition in wheelchair sports, but it is a delicate and time-consuming process with often questionable validity. New inertial sensor-based measurement methods applied in match play and field tests allow for more precise and objective estimates of the impairment effect on wheelchair-mobility performance. The aim of the present research was to evaluate whether these measures could offer an alternative point of view for classification. Methods: Six standard wheelchair-mobility performance outcomes of different classification groups were measured in match play (n = 29), as well as best possible performance in a field test (n = 47). Results: In match results, a clear relationship between classification and performance level is shown, with increased performance outcomes in each adjacent higher-classification group. Three outcomes differed significantly between the low- and mid-classified groups, and 1, between the mid- and high-classified groups. In best performance (field test), there was a split between the low- and mid-classified groups (5 out of 6 outcomes differed significantly) but hardly any difference between the mid- and high-classified groups. This observed split was confirmed by cluster analysis, revealing the existence of only 2 performance-based clusters. Conclusions: The use of inertial sensor technology to obtain objective measures of wheelchair-mobility performance, combined with a standardized field test, produced alternative views for evidence-based classification. The results of this approach provide arguments for a reduced number of classes in wheelchair basketball. Future use of inertial sensors in match play and field testing could enhance evaluation of classification guidelines, as well as individual athlete performance.

van der Slikke, Berger, and de Witte are with Human Kinetic Technology, Faculty of Health, Nutrition and Sports, The Hague University of Applied Sciences, The Hague, the Netherlands. van der Slikke, Bregman, and Veeger are with the Dept of Biomechanical Engineering, Delft University of Technology, Delft, the Netherlands. de Witte and Veeger are also with the Dept of Human Movement Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

van der Slikke (r.m.a.vanderslikke@hhs.nl.) is corresponding author.
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