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If you're not familiar with power soccer, get with the game! After all, globally, including in North America, power soccer is the fastest growing disability sport. Literally, all of the kids are doing it – and their parents all want their children's power wheelchairs optimized, wanting to give their champs the competitive edge. Faster and more maneuverable is what many wish in a power soccer power wheelchair; however, there's more to the set-up than those variables when it comes to hitting a ball further, faster, and scoring goals.

Principles of Power Soccer
Power soccer is played on a standardized basketball court, preferably of a wood surface, with a goal marked at each end. Two teams, of four players each (one of whom is the goalkeeper), compete to get a 13” ball down the court, into a goal for the score, played in two, 20-minute sessions, with rules on par with soccer, including penalties.

Equipment Regulations
Power wheelchairs must be used in play (mobility scooters of any kind are prohibited), and cannot have a speed exceeding 6.2mph. A lap belt is required for all players, as well as a chest strap or other provisions for those in need. The power wheelchair cannot have any accessories on it, such as a backpack, and it must be clear of any protruding components or sharp edges for safety and fairness of play.

The “foot guard” is essential to power soccer, and required for regulation play (some smaller, local teams use hockey sticks instead of foot guards; however, they are not legal for play within the Power Soccer Association). The foot guard must be of unbreakable material – often consisting of an aluminum “cage” – that surrounds the player's feet, used for both protection and “kicking” the ball. For fair play, there are very specific foot guard standards: It can't be wider than the widest point of the power wheelchair, nor can it be narrower than the front casters; it can't extend forward more than 13” past the reversed front casters, or 10” past the player's toes; it must be between 2” and 5” off of the ground; it must be between 8” and 20” high; and, it must have a flat or convex face (concave is prohibited).

Optimizing a Power Wheelchair for Power Soccer
With the rules in place, the question becomes, how does one optimize one's power wheelchair for power soccer – and the answer is subjective, based on if one primarily plays an “offensive” or “defensive” position.

Starting with the power base, in the offensive positions, rear-wheel drive proves the platform of choice – namely, toward “kicking” the ball. A common technique used in power soccer for various kicks – like corner kicks – is to spin one's power wheelchair in a 180-degree turn and hit the ball with the side of the foot guard (a bit like using the power wheelchair as a pinball flipper to launch the ball). Rear-wheel drive allows the best pivot point and leverage (moment arm), to accomplish such a kick – the whole length of the power wheelchair whips around with force and leverage. By comparison, a mid/center-wheel drive has less distance from the drive wheel to the foot guard (a shorter moment arm), so there's less of a swing, so to speak (and front-wheel drive is the greatest disadvantage of all, offering virtually no moment arm for 180-degree kicks). Additionally, if one's prone to running the length of the court, rear-wheel drive inherently tracks straight, reduce player fatigue at the joystick.

On the defensive side, mid/center-wheel drive excels, offering instantaneous turns for ultimate maneuvering – or, out-maneuvering, as the case may be. Similarly, goalkeepers benefit from mid/center-wheel drive, able to turn on a dime within the goal.

Of course, no matter the power base, speed comes into play – but, not in the ways many presume. Many players seek out 8mph power wheelchairs; however, again, regulation play limits players' top speed to 6.2mph, and reaching even that speed during play is rare. Power soccer is a lot of close-quarter maneuvering, so players truly want fast acceleration and rapid turn rates, not all-out top speed.

For quick starts, stops, and turning, players often seek higher-than-normal Acceleration, Deceleration, and Turn Speed parameter settings, where a twitch of the joystick brings a response. While turning up such program settings improves performance for power soccer, it should be done with awareness. Firstly, a specific mode/drive profile on the hand control should be assigned specifically for power soccer, and not used in everyday use. Secondly, increasing such settings can be hazardous if set too high (especially the Turn Acceleration, Turn Speed, and Turn Response parameters), so they should never be maxed-out, but turned up incrementally to find a balance of performance and safety. Lastly, be aware that turning up these parameters too high will increase the likelihood of overheating the controller, as well as draining the batteries, so achieving peak performance without programming the power wheelchair unnecessarily high is important.

Drive wheel tires, interestingly, play a significant role in optimizing a power wheelchair for power soccer – an aspect overlooked by virtually all. As previously noted, lightening-fast acceleration is often wished in power soccer, and pneumatic drive wheel tires, inflated to maximum PSI, provide the most optimal solution. Flat-free tires are heavy, and are thereby slower to accelerate, placing the greatest strain on the power wheelchair under such demanding conditions. Therefore, simply using pneumatic tires will allow a notable performance increase toward faster acceleration and overall more-efficient performance.

Power soccer is about competition, but also regulation and safety. By optimizing a power wheelchair with the right power base for the position, applying game-specific programming, and running the right tires, a player can not only meet regulations and safety, but outperform competing players in similar power wheelchairs – it's called getting the competitive advantage.

For more information on power soccer, visit the United States Power Soccer Association.

Published 10/2010, Copyright 2010, WheelchairJunkie.com