Radford professor trains health care workers abroad

J.P. Barfield

It's no secret soccer is the world's most popular sport. The beautiful game, as it's often called, is played by many people, from young children to adults, with varying ranges of abilities.

Power soccer, which is played by individuals with disabilities using power wheelchairs, is gaining in popularity. There are international competitions and a World Cup every four years.

To ensure fairness in Paralympic competitions, athletes must first be evaluated for physical function.

This summer, when health care professionals in South America needed to be trained to assess power soccer athletes, J.P. Barfield answered the call.

Barfield, an associate professor in Radford University's Department of Health and Human Performance, serves as an international competition classifier for Powerchair Football, or soccer, athletes.

In August, he traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina to train 37 health care professionals, including occupational and physical therapists and physicians, to classify athletes with physical disabilities for competition.

"Organizers of the sport want to ensure everybody can play. A player's function is assessed so you don't have only high functioning players," said Barfield, a member of the Research and Sports Science Consortium, the research branch of the U.S. Paralympic Committee. "Every athlete gets a different score based on their function, and each team puts together a roster with the same score. That way, people with high and low function get to participate. It balances it out."

In his training, Barfield taught the professionals to distinguish an athlete's playing ability and function and how to administer technical tests to distinguish the function rate among athletes with the same disability.

"For example, with cerebral palsy, we look at muscle function tests and specific tests for spinal cord injuries, voluntary function, muscular dystrophy, muscle strength and balance," Barfield explained. "We talk about the benchmarks that distinguish the disabilities and those with more function and those with less. All these players have severe disabilities and you have to have an awareness of those populations."

Power soccer is played indoors on a basketball court. All players use power wheelchairs.

"These are people with the most severe physical impairments. It's a unique sport because a lot of people who have to use a power wheelchair can't play other wheelchair sports that require a manual wheelchair," Barfield said. "Soccer is a little different because people with all sorts of disabilities play. So, we have to determine how to distinguish the athletes based on their abilities and decided what gives one player an advantage and another player a disadvantage."

Oct 5, 2015