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Claire’s got the boccia passion | Inclusive Coaching | ConnectedCoaches

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Paralympics: Claire’s got the boccia passion

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Great Britain's David Smith

Great Britain's David Smith (C) in action during a mixed teams Bronze Medal Match at the International Boccia Invitational

Days away from the Paralympics in Rio, the viewing millions may well find themselves about to become hooked on something that fits the true definition of sport, and that is one of the tiny handful of events that has no equivalent in the Olympic Games.

Played in more than 50 countries, simple enough to be understood easily, yet difficult enough to require massive skill and concentration, boccia (pronounced as in ‘gotcha’) has been part of the Paralympics since 1984.

It was developed as a game of strategy and accuracy, which was originally played by people with cerebral palsy, but has since developed to include athletes with impairments affecting motor skills.

And above all, once you start watching, you will find yourself absorbed by it, not simply because of how the athletes have overcome their impairments, but because this is sport at its simplest and best. A simple game in concept yet devilishly difficult to execute.

And one of the coaches charged with helping the British athletes reach their potential has a great philosophy regarding this and all sport.

ConnectedCoaches member Claire Morrison just loves sport. ‘I’ve always been passionate about it, and when I was a youngster, I originally wanted to be a PE teacher, but in the end, my journey took me into sports development.

‘I did lots of playing of sport and some coaching while at college, mostly hockey, but I was also involved in football. I then went on to join Scottish Disability Sport as a development officer, but realised I was working with all these great people and wanted to get more understanding and some proper hands-on experience so that’s when I got involved with the boccia squad.’

Rio’s grand for GB Boccia

Scot Claire’s progress has seen her go from helping with the Scottish squad to being an assistant coach in London, and now in the senior role for Rio as performance coach for GB Boccia, working specifically with the BC1, BC2 and BC4 throwers.

‘Boccia actually starts a couple of days into the Paralympics so we can really become acclimatised and focus on the event. We have an experienced squad in terms of competition, even though only four of the 10 have been to the Paralympics before. All of our competitors have experience during this Paralympic cycle, and we’ve had success at the European and world level.

‘Are we ready? Well, when it comes to the Paralympics, you could always do with more time. But we have had four years... and we are ready!’

As mentioned, the sport itself is a great concept for players and crowds alike. It is a target ball sport, similar in many ways to bowls or curling, and is played indoors with soft leather balls. It is a sport of intriguing tactics, real skill and tension.

A team of individuals

Claire doesn’t try to teach one way to play because there simply is not one way to play, and you can’t replicate the performance under pressure and match situations. Plus of course, with athletes at this level, she is not teaching them how to play, but working with each athlete in the way that sometimes a batting coach will analyse a Test cricketer to see how their technique compares to their normal style, and ironing out flaws.

‘Going into the Paralympics, we’ve had a phased approach to our training camps and preparation, and we will not ignore doing the basics. So in pre-camp, we looked at technical and tactical approaches.

‘Some players need more technical help, others more tactical assistance, and we are not afraid to look outside our sport for an edge. We will happily learn from other sports if we think they are doing things we could use in our preparation.

‘When it comes to our players, we’ve very much looked at what people’s strengths are, at what the throwing process should look like to that individual, and we always remember that it’s very different for each athlete. That’s something we know all too well in disability sport, but which other coaches in other sports may not always consider as easily.

‘Each person has different ways of throwing, and obviously, all individuals vary so the lesson is to hone those fundamentals, of what they do and why, then make it work.

‘If I see a young player for the first time, I don’t tell them how to throw, I want them to do what works best for them. One player may throw it underarm and it be right, another may have a condition where that doesn’t work as well for them.

‘What this does do is make us very aware of the individual, even within team competitions.’

Boccia wants you!

Although popular and a crowd favourite, like many disability sports, there is plenty of room for growth in boccia, and the Paralympics could be a great recruiting sergeant. Therefore, all coaches need to be prepared and ready to welcome new recruits.

‘We are still developing, and the players we work with are often quite young or new to the sport, but what that does mean is we can get them when they have developed fewer bad habits!’

And the hope is they will be inspired not just by the sport itself, but by Team GB success.

Britain sent a full squad to the 2012 Paralympic Games in London and won two medals – David Smith’s silver in the BC1 individual competition, and the BC1/BC2 team of Smith, Nigel Murray, Dan Bentley and Zoe Robinson, who scooped bronze.

‘The team we are sending to Rio has some real medal chances too,’ says Morrison.

‘Individually, we have five players ranked in the top 10 in their classes. The reality is that these players know how to compete under pressure. We’ll just have to hope all goes well.

‘It’s always tough to win medals, but each of our teams has a medal chance, while individually, we’ll be looking at names such as David Smith again, he’s ranked three in the world, plus Stephen McGuire, BC4 world champion, ranked two and a player who has had a great year, but that’s a really tough class to win.

‘Elsewhere, we have Nigel Murray – it’s his fifth Games as a BC2, and he is still in with a medal chance, while in BC3, Patrick Wilson and Scott and Jamie McCowan all have a chance.’

It may be a cliché, but in this game, sport is the true winner, and Britain could be too, both at Rio and if more people find their way through the doors of a local club.

‘It’s a sport that is growing, but there’s always potential for more. A lot of people don’t know it exists yet so the more we can get the message out, the better. It’s a great game, the level of skill is phenomenal, and we want people to think “I can play that sport.”

Claire’s top three coaching tips:

  1. Reflect – allow yourself to reflect on what you are doing so you can continue to learn and develop like you would expect of your athletes.

  2. Learn from others – there is so much to learn from other sports – mainstream sport, para-sport, other coaches etc. Learning never stops!

  3. Have fun! Remember the passion and love you have for your sport, and have fun sharing that with others. You can work hard with a smile!
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