Classification in Paralympic athletics aims to promote participation by people with disabilities by minimising the impact of impairment on the outcome of competition. Achieving this aim will ensure successful athletes are those who have the most favourable physiological, anthropometric and psychological attributes and not simply those who are less impaired than their competitors. The aim of this program of research is to make a scientific contribution to the development of evidence-based methods of classification for Paralympic running and throwing events.
Section 1 describes the key concepts of Paralympic classification. Evidence-based methods of classification require research that evaluates the relative strength of association between valid measures of the impairment performance. A valid measure of impairment requires several measurement properties, one being that it should be resistant to training. Unfortunately it is likely that available measures of impaired strength and coordination will improve in response to athletic training, creating the possibility that well-trained athletes may improve their impairment profile and subsequently be competitively disadvantaged by being placed into a class with athletes with less severe impairments than themselves. Therefore a second research requirement for evidence-based methods of classification is the development of tests that will permit classifiers to determine the extent to which an athlete may have positively influenced their impairment profile through athletic training. These are referred to as Training Assessment Tests (TAT) which should be highly responsive to training and have a significant relationship to performance.
Section 2 is entitled “Measurement methods for evidence-based classification in Paralympic Athletics” and comprises two chapters, chapter 3 for coordination and chapter 4 for ROM. Each describes the current measures of coordination and ROM available, which do not permit evidence-based classification. Therefore chapter 3 describes seven novel upper and lower limb coordination tests for seated and standing-throwing and running, and chapter 4 describes four lower limb tests for standing-throws and running which meet the criteria for a valid measure of impairment.
Section 3 comprises four experiments which makes an original scientific contribution to the development of evidence-based classification. Experiment one entitled “How much do impaired range of movement and coordination affect sprint performance?” Thirteen runners with brain impairments (RBI) and non-disabled runners (NDR) (n=28) performed three measures of coordination, four measures of ROM and two criterion measures of running performance - acceleration (time from 0-15 m) and top speed (time from 30-60 m). The results demonstrate, for the RBI the ROM heel-pull distance and the dorsi-flexion lunge explained 39% and 46% of the variance in 0-15 m, and 58% and 53% of the variance in 30-60 m, respectively. These tests are valid for determining the impact of impaired ROM on running performance and may be incorporated into current methods of classification.
Experiment two evaluates the validity of upper and lower limb coordination tests for athletes performing seated and standing-throwing. Seventeen throwers with brain impairments and ten non-disabled participants (ND) performed five upper limb and, if possible, performed three lower limb coordination tests (n=9). The results demonstrate that throwers with brain impairments performed significantly slower on all coordination tests (p<0.01) suggesting that the tests capture coordination impairment. Significant correlations between all upper limb coordination tests and seated-throwing performance (p<0.05), however, only the box and block test significantly correlated with standing-throwing (r = 0.81, p<0.01), and therefore has possible utility in classification.
The third experiment evaluates the validity of five TATs for running in RBI. Thirteen RBI and twenty-eight NDR performed: standing broad jump (SBJ); four bounds (4-bounds); running in place; slip jump and skip; and running performance: 0-15 m and 30-60 m. The best correlations for 0-15 m were the skip and 4-bounds for RBI (r=-0.93, r=-0.79) and NDR (r=-0.70, r=-0.59); and the best correlation for 30-60 m were the 4-bounds and SBJ for RBI (r=-0.96, r=-0.67) and 4-bounds and skip for NDR (r=-0.67, r=-0.61). These results suggest that activities emphasising lower limb power are valid TATs for RBI and have utility for helping to differentiate well-trained athletes from novices during classification.
Valid TATs should have a significant relationship to performance, which is also a feature of valid Talent Identification (TID) tests. Therefore, although the fourth experiment in this thesis is presented as a study evaluating the “Reliability and validity of a novel TID battery for seated and standing-throwing”, outcomes from the study will also contribute to the development of evidence-based methods of classification for seated and standing-throwing. Twenty-eight ND participants performed nine TID tests and criterion throws; seated-throw with and without an assistive pole and standing-throw. Results show reliable TIDs (mean ICC r=0.89) with the exception of two tests. Five TID tests significantly correlated with performance, demonstrating the ability to accelerate distal body segments (mean r=0.72), optimise release parameters (mean r=0.66) and maximise muscle contractions (mean r=0.48) - all are critical for seated-throw and standing-throw performance.
In summary, this thesis makes several contributions to the development of evidence-based classification in Paralympic running and throwing events. The current measures of coordination and ROM do not permit the development of evidence-based systems of classification. The novel methods described provide a significant advance because they meet the prerequisite criteria for valid tests of impairment for the purposes of classification. Experiments one and two provide evidence that a number of the tests developed can be validly applied in the current IPC Athletics classification system. Experiment 3 provides evidence that the TATs evaluated can be used by classifiers to ensure that athletes who train hard for athletics are not penalised. Experiment 4 reports reliable and novel tests which have utility in Paralympic TID - promoting participation in sport by people with disabilities and can also be incorporated into current classification processes for throwers. Overall, this program of research makes a rigorous and practical contribution to the development of evidence-based methods of classification for Paralympic running and throwing.