Community physiotherapist Julie Styles-Cooper volunteers regularly as a para-swimming classifier.
Classification provides a structure for a competition to ensure that it is fair and equal.
A classification system is in place to minimise the impact of impairments on sport performance and to ensure the success of an athlete is determined by skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus.
How did you get into being a classifier?
Firstly, it is important to note that you need to have worked as a medical doctor or chartered physiotherapist for at least two years before you are able to train as a medical classifier.
I have always had a passion for improving access to sport for all children with disabilities so I contacted the Hampshire and Isle of Wight disability sports officer and got involved with local multi-sport events.
In 2007, I was invited to train as a medical classifier for swimming in the South East region and after attending an International Paralympic Committee (IPC) course I became a trainee classifier.
I classified regularly across the UK and was put forward for a training course in 2010 where I was promoted to an IPC Level 1 classifier. I am now also involved in the selection and training of national classifiers in line with the IPC rules and regulations.
Usually at para-swimming events I volunteer as a medical classifier, working alongside a technical classifier (a swimming coach), assessing the athletes using a set of standardised swimming tests to place them in the correct categories and ensure a fair field of competition.
How does your classifier role complement your day job?
I am employed by Solent NHS Trust as a band 7 community paediatric physiotherapist, working in a team caring for children with complex needs and their families.
These roles complement each other because both involve assessing people’s capability and helping them be active. My experience in neurology and paediatrics has also proved invaluable in classification because I am used to working with children with permanent disabilities. I have received a greater exposure to a wider range of conditions through classification which has increased my knowledge when treating children.
The role is voluntary with all expenses paid and most regional competitions are at weekends. However, classification for national and international competitions generally takes place in the week so I have to use my holiday to go to them.
What are the benefits of swimming, and how can disabled people compete?
Swimming is a sport for all ages and abilities and anyone can compete.
However, in order to be eligible for para-swimming competitions, an athlete must have a permanent and irreversible medical condition of a physical, intellectual or visual nature.
First and foremost, it is really important that everyone learns to swim from an early age – all public swimming pool will offer swimming lessons.
If you’re interested in pursuing the sport further, the next step is to join a local swimming club. This is where the competing really starts, ranging from inter-club galas to national events and on to international events such as the Paralympic Games.
There are so many benefits to swimming, on both physical and psychological levels. Physical benefits include a full body aerobic workout, increased bone and muscle strength, improved flexibility and improved lung volume and proper breathing techniques.
Psychological benefits include the increased social interaction through being part of a team, creation of an additional support network and improved self-esteem.
Want to know more?
If you are a qualified medical doctor, physiotherapist or level 2/3 UKCC coach with an interest in disability swimming and would like to know more about becoming a classifier. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.