Disability sport: don’t be afraid to try new things

Disability sport: don’t be afraid to try new things

January isn’t the most popular of months. It signals that time of year when everyone starts their resolutions. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s the perfect opportunity to try new things, such as getting motivated by a sport. That’s certainly what Mark Philips has done over the past year, and he will share how sport has impacted on my life…

Since leaving university and continuing studying from home, I’ve thrown myself into disability awareness, such as speaking at conferences, writing articles and using other media outlets (being Social Media Executive for Disability Horizons as one example!). The work has been mostly about sharing my experiences and sometimes offering my own slant on different issues.

This has opened up many opportunities for me to meet new people and try new things. One thing that always struck me is that it seemed like everywhere I went people were asking: “Have you ever thought of doing X disability sport?” I’ll be honest, a lot of these I’d never even heard of at the time, so trying one out was very much like going into the unknown.

I’ve always been passionate about sport. Growing up in a family that was football crazy and having two older brothers, it would’ve been hard not to be! So you’re probably wondering why I haven’t got into disability sport before?

Unfortunately, football always took precedent over everything and as a child; it’s all I wanted to do. Then, as I got older, my cerebral palsy meant I couldn’t participate anymore. I then replaced playing football with supporting Swansea City football team, and to this day I have been a fanatic.

However, over the years I definitely missed participating in sports. I’ve always been competitive, so I decided that I no longer wanted to just sit there and do nothing, so I started to take people up on some of these invitations and see what I could achieve.

To begin with, one of the main problems for me was getting back into the mindset of playing sport again as opposed to watching and cheering on the sideline. It’s difficult to explain, but I’d had years as a spectator where the pressure was off, but now all, of a sudden, I had ‘potential’ again… and with so many other sports waiting for me to try I was a little overwhelmed.

So I first tried Club Throwing (an athletic event where you literally throw a wooden club!) in Cardiff. I met so many interesting athletes who went on to collect medals at London 2012 (I’ll resist the temptation to name drop). They certainly inspired me to continue to push myself in disability sport.

I decided, however, to focus on something different: Boccia. So I joined the Swansea Boccia Club. Mark Phillips playing Boccia - Disability HorizonsKnowing nothing of the sport initially, I was drawn to the fact that it is a game of skills rather than strength. The club has been very welcoming and we definitely have a good mixed group. We certainly have lots of laughs even though it’s very competitive, which is one of the reasons I’ve stuck it out.

We’ve also benefited, as a group, from some fantastic experience and coaching from London 2012 Boccia Silver (Individual) & Bronze (Team) Medallist, David Smith.

David is a fantastic player and is a great example to anyone looking to get into Boccia (or any sport) of the level of focus and commitment a player needs to compete at the highest levels.

Boccia sometimes gets unfairly labelled as not really a spectator-friendly sport. Countless times when you explain “it’s a lot like bowls,” people instantly get the image of an old man’s game. The reality is, Boccia is for everyone. For me, it’s a game all about skill, as well as inner strength and concentration, as a lot of the time you spend on court is taken up with trying not to physic yourself out and just focus on your own game.

I’ve learnt a lot in the last year or so and I’m constantly trying to improve my own game. I can’t be doing to badly as I was given the Players’ Player of the Year award by the club. In the coming year I’m hoping to be, at least, on the GB radar for Rio 2016. It’ll be a big task but I’m hoping that what I lack in experience I’ll make up for in determination and enthusiasm for the game. I certainly don’t want to look back with any regrets, and I do want to know that I’ve tried everything to reach my goal. At Swansea Boccia Club I’m certainly in the best place possible to improve.

My message for DH readers this 2013 is simply: always try new experiences. You might not be the sportiest person in the world, but disability sport is a fantastic way to get motivated, get exercising and meeting new people. So get yourself out there!

By Mark Phillips

You can follow Mark on Twitter, and don’t forget to join in the discussion with his weekly Twitter Takeover on Monday and Thursday.

Check out…

Aiming high: Paralympic swimmer in the making.
Wheelchair pool and snooker: inclusive sports­.
Paralympic Games 2012: the freedom of sailing.

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