The psychological influences on participation in Wheelchair Rugby: a social relational model of disability

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Sport and exercise psychology research in disability sport seldom engages with social models of disability. As a result, the socio-historical landscape of disability is underrepresented in sport psychology research. The aim of this study is to interpret influences on participation in disability sport through the conceptual lens of the social relational model (SRM) of disability (Thomas, 1999, 2004, 2007). Ten Irish adult male athletes with physical disabilities participated in semi-structured interviews exploring the barriers and facilitators that influence participation in Wheelchair Rugby. Deductive thematic analysis produced four themes influenced by the social relational model: impairment effects; societal attitudes and discourse; opportunities and access; and psychological well-being. Links were made to the experience of embodied impairment, classification, oppression, inequality, media, independence, and self-efficacy. The analysis illustrates how cultural constructions of disability are inextricably linked to individual influences on participation in Wheelchair Rugby. The results indicate that in disability sport participation, the experience of social oppression, inequality and cultural stereotypes of disability can be synonymous with the personal experience of physical impairment. The implication of this research is that there is a value in sport and exercise psychology practitioners utilising the social relational model as a tool to conceptualise the lived experience of physical disability.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-78
JournalActa Universitatis Carolinae: Kinanthropologica
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 30 Jun 2017


  • disability studies
  • spinal cord injury
  • disability sport
  • psycho-emotional oppression
  • para-sport


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