It's all about having the right attitude - My Take by Captain Louis George, Maharashtra wheelchair basketball coach
The Maharashtra women's team recently won the national title in women's wheelchair basketball, a well-deserved win against a tough side. In My Take this week, team coach Captain Louis George shares his journey with this team.
Right from my school days in Trivandrum, I was interested in sports. I was studying at the Sainik School at Kazhakootam, and I represented my school in football, basketball, hockey and athletics, but basketball was my first love.
This passion for sports continued at the university level too. I represented Pune University in inter-university championships. I also represented Maharashtra in the junior basketball nationals in 1972.
Later I represented the National Defence Academy (NDA) in basketball and football. After I joined the Indian Navy, I joined the Indian Navy in 1976, where I was a member of the basketball team and represented the combined services in the nationals in 1980.
After retiring from the navy in 2013, I started coaching children less than 15 years of age in the basics of basketball. In 2016 a good friend of mine Abraham Poulose, introduced me to wheelchair basketball. I did a referee's course and there has been no looking back since then.
Wheelchair basketball is so challenging because players need to be able to control their wheelchairs - speed up when required, slow down, turn to the right / left etc. Once the basic wheelchair movement control is mastered, players need to be able to control the basketball as well. Ensuring that there are no traveling violations or banging into others' wheelchairs also needs great skill.
Most of the wheelchair players have spinal cord injuries (SCI). As a result, their lower limbs are non-functional. All their passing, dribbling, shooting etc. is thus done with the help of their upper body only. This implies that the wheelchair basketball player's hands must be strong to propel the wheelchair, to pass, to shoot etc. as support from their legs is not there.
Apart from the game itself, it is important to stay positive and not give in to self-pity. Once they are on the court, players forget their disabilities and are seen by everyone as athletes first. Taking part in competitions like the national championships has helped to improve their attitude further.
Playing the game is a costly affair. First is the cost of sports wheelchairs and in this matter, we have been fortunate to have the support of Dr Ketna Mehta from the Nina Foundation.
Travel costs are also a factor. Every time a player comes for practice, a minimum of Rs. 800 is spent on travel as players have to carry their wheelchairs with them. Over the years we have received support from various people. I would like to mention Mumbai University, which has been of immense help. They have provided us with the indoor wooden court facilities, so we have been able to practice even in the monsoons.
The winning moment
Coming to the national finals, I just couldn't believe that our girls played so well. From being 6 points down in the 4th quarter, they equalised and then went 6 points up, before finally winning by 4 points (22-18).
I had only one feeling - that our girls will never give up and they proved that by snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Teaching them means so much to me because firstly I learnt that no amount of aches and pains are comparable to what our wheelchair players have gone through. Secondly, whenever I am sad or depressed, my mood always cheers up when I think of the positive attitude shown by our wheelchair players.
If they can do it, why not I?