More than just sport coaching

With the Paralympics now in full swing, showcasing the best Athletes disability sport has to offer, what can we learn from the games?

I was heavily involved in Wheelchair Basketball (WCBB) during my time at University, and it was some of the best experiences of my life. A GB Wheelchair Basketball initiative led to me setting up the Universities wheelchair program and been a part of the first ever University championships in the UK, captaining my team to a Bronze Medal.

A lot of people see disabled sport, and think only disabled people can play it, but with a large amount of the sports, it’s simply not the case on a general community level with anyone allowed to join in.

In the UK the 2016 statistics showed there are 11.9 million people in the UK with a registered disability (19% of the overall population). Each sport focuses on a specific type of disability. Wheelchair Basketball’s guidelines as set out by the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF) state that “Competitors must have a physical limitation that prevent them from being able run, pivot, jump at speed and control, safety, stability and endurance of a nondisabled player; and have a permanent physical disability in the lower limb that can be objectively verified by acknowledged medical or paramedical investigations such as measurement, X-ray, CT, MRI, and so on.”

Taking this into account, targeting the specific disability group, the official statistics show that around 57% of disabled people are categorized with a mobility disability. This equates to around 6.8 million people; however with 5.1 Million of the overall disability population been over state pension age it reduces the target group even further.

If each sport only targeted their specific target group, the playing base would be a lot smaller and harder for clubs to establish in each area. At community and national level WCBB allow everyone to play, and matches are devised on a points based system to balance out the playing field. At Paralympic and International level only the specific age groups can compete, but without the inclusivity these athletes wouldn’t get the chance to play regularly and develop their ability.

It quickly balances out on the court though, although I may have more core movement than some of the players, they were more accustomed to being in a wheelchair than I was and were gliding past me while I learnt to move fluidly around the court. The skill and strength required was demanding, everyone has tried a free-throw shot on a basketball court, now try doing that from sat in a chair without leg power and height. The hoops are still at the same height as the running game at 3.05M and not lowered like many people expect.

Being involved in disability sport is a very eye opening experience and gives you a small taste of what some of these athletes lives are like on a daily basis. I would encourage everyone to have a go at disability sport at some stage, and I assure you it will be a very enjoyable experience, and you would also be a key person in the development of disability sport allowing our athletes opportunities.

For now enjoy the Paralympics, and the top level sport it brings us!

By Coach Jacob

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