A first timer’s guide to… wheelchair basketball
Am I the wrong person to be writing this?’ I asked Ian Laker, who is head coach of the Titans, London and Southern England’s biggest wheelchair basketball team. ‘Shouldn’t someone with a disability be reviewing this?’ Apparently not. ‘At the top level it’s only for people with disabilities,’ Ian says, ‘but the sport’s growing massively across the country and people with or without disabilities are taking it up.’
So what is it? It’s five-a-side basketball played on the same court with the same ball and the same scoring system as regular basketball, but everyone’s in a wheelchair. Players move the ball around by passing or dribbling and have to throw or bounce the ball after every two pushes of the wheels on their chairs. Gloves are a good idea to stop your hands getting worn as you push. I forgot mine.
A GREAT LEVELLER
Everyone plays together – men and women, young and old, are assigned a number depending on their level of mobility. A team of five is then put together and no side is allowed more than a certain number of points on court at any one time.
I was lucky enough to get a 10-minute lesson from GB Paralympian Manni Filson at a tournament organised by charity Path to Success, who taught me the basics (push, turn, dribble, pass, shoot) before I was thrown into a game. It was inspiring to spend time with Manni, who made the seemingly impossible look easy, but what struck me as utterly wonderful was that everyone was more or less competing in a tough sport on a level playing field.
ALL TOGETHER NOW
This sport is about excellence and glory at the top level but about inclusivity on the levels below that. Everyone’s invited. Including you. The Titans do get non-disabled people through the doors on their own wanting to play, says Ian, but more often it’s friends and siblings, partners, parents and children (with and without disabilities) who take up the sport so they can play together.
As for me, I played for 15 minutes and came away with three layers of skin gone from my thumb. Just wear your gloves.
HOW TO SIGN UP
The details: Wheelchair Basketball
Where: Find your nearest team via British Wheelchair Basketball
Level: Suitable for all
Cost: Try free; then £5 a session
Time: Four quarters, 10 minutes each
The tournament was organised by charity Path to Success, who sponsor the London Titans, including two players with £22,500 each to help them achieve their dream of getting to Tokyo.