Adaptive Sports: Power Soccer

Born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), Natalie Russo was introduced to power soccer at a summer camp for children with disabilities. With experience in adaptive baseball falling short of Natalie’s expectations in years prior, she was reluctant to join, so, while fellow summer camp attendees went to play power soccer, Natalie stayed behind.

Meanwhile, Natalie’s brother, J.C., who attended the same camp, came home talking about his experience playing power soccer. Although her brother enjoyed the sport, Natalie was less enthusiastic about the idea. She said, “When power soccer came around, I wanted nothing to do with it.” Russo said her parents forced her to play, but over time, she grew to enjoy the sport. Now playing power soccer for over 20 years, Russo not only met her fiancé through the sport, but she also became a World Cup winning power soccer athlete, helping Team USA take home a victory in the first Power Soccer World Cup in 2007.

What Is Power Soccer?

Power soccer is an adaptation of traditional soccer. Unlike traditional soccer, power soccer athletes play the game using specialized wheelchairs and adaptive equipment. Players use power wheelchairs and soccer guards to maneuver the ball across the field and score goals. Athletes compete both nationally and internationally with tournaments hosted by the United States Power Soccer Association (USPSA). Every four years, power soccer athletes from around the world gather to compete in the Power Soccer World Cup. 

Who Can Play Power Soccer?

Athletes playing power soccer must have disabilities that qualify them to play the adaptive sport. All power soccer athletes have a physical disability that impacts their ability to play traditional soccer. Players may have a range of disabilities including but not limited to:

  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Quadriplegia

Power soccer can be played both recreationally and professionally, however, athletes without disabilities cannot qualify to play. Other adaptive sports, like wheelchair basketball, can be played recreationally by those with and without disabilities.

Rules of Power Soccer

Two rules set power soccer apart from traditional soccer. First, only two players, aside from the goalie, can defend the goal at one time. This means the fourth player on a team must stay out of the defined goal area when a competitor attempts to make a goal. This rule gives the player handling the ball adequate space to attempt a shot at the goal. The second rule that differs from traditional soccer is the two-on-one rule. This rule states that while the ball is in play, only one person can be within three meters of their opponent. If two players from the same team get too close to an opposing player, the opposing player’s team will get a free kick. This rule ensures players do not crowd in one area,so athletes have space to move and play more freely.

Power Soccer Vs. Traditional Soccer

Like other sports for people with disabilities, adaptations are made in power soccer to accommodate players’ needs. Power soccer and traditional soccer differ in a few key ways.

Where Is Power Soccer Played?

Unlike traditional soccer, played on a grass soccer field, power soccer is played on a basketball court which provides athletes with a level playing surface and a smaller distance to travel during a game.

What Type of Ball Is Used in Power Soccer?

The ball used in power soccer is larger than a traditional soccer ball. Power soccer balls are 13 inches in diameter and weigh about two pounds. This differs from the traditional soccer ball, which is roughly nine inches in diameter and weighs about one pound.

What Kind of Wheelchair Is Used in Power Soccer?

Power soccer wheelchairs have several customizations that can be made to accommodate an athlete’s specific disability. The most common type of wheelchair used in competitive power soccer is the Strike Force power wheelchair. This wheelchair is designed specifically for the sport. With a lower center of gravity, wider wheelbase, and a greater turn radius, power soccer wheelchairs ensure a safe and fair game between players.

Power soccer wheelchairs are fitted with soccer guards, which not only allow players to move the ball during a game but also protect against injury from contact with other players. For those who are new to power soccer or those who do not have a power soccer wheelchair, a soccer guard can be fit onto an everyday power chair.

How Many Players Are on a Power Soccer Team?

Due to the larger size of power soccer wheelchairsand the smaller playing area, a limited number of people can play power soccer at one time. In traditional soccer, 22 people are on the field, with 11 players on each team. In a power soccer game, eight athletes compete, with three players from each team moving across the field, and one athlete from each team serving as the goalie.

How Do You Score a Goal in Power Soccer?

Unlike traditional soccer, which uses a soccer net, power soccer uses two goalposts on either side of the goal area. To score points, an athlete uses their wheelchair and soccer guard to get the ball between the two goalposts.

Getting Involved in Power Soccer

Once feeling forced into the sport, Natalie Russo described the positive impact power soccer has had in her life. Russo said, “It’s brought me so much more than tournaments and awards. It’s given me experiences all over the world, and the love of my life.” Russo hopes others can find community, and new opportunities through adaptive sports, and she encourages those interested in power soccer to join a team. Prospective athletes can find a local team on the U.S. Power Soccer Association website.

Looking for more information on adaptive sports and inclusive activities? Check out our related articles to find out about disability-friendly opportunities in your local community.

Related Articles