In our series of articles about the London Paralympic Games 2012 we talk to you about the Paralympic sports you love.
Paralympic sport Boccia is one often unheard of outside Paralympic circles. So, this summer, Margo Milne wants to shed light on the sport and encourage other disabled sports fans to take it up.
Have you ever heard of Boccia, pronounced BOTCH-a? It’s one of only three Paralympic sports with no equivalent in the Olympics. It’s been part of the Paralympics since 1984, and is currently played in more than 50 countries. But outside the world of disability sport, it’s little known.
Boccia and me
I love sports, and when I was able bodied I used to throw the 4kg hammer. These days I would struggle to lift one off the ground. When I became disabled I still wanted to participate in sport, but what could I do now with my weakling body, rubbish balance, severe fatigue, and tendency to fall asleep at random moments? I looked round at a number of different sports, but nothing seemed to suit. Finally I tried Boccia at a taster day. Pretty much straight away I was hooked.
Sadly, during the two years I played, I was never talent-spotted for the Paralympic squad. But that didn’t stop me really enjoying my practice sessions and league matches. I met nice people and made friends while having a good time – what more can you ask?
Boccia for everyone
Boccia was originally designed as a game for people with cerebral palsy, but is now played by people with all sorts of disabilities. Most players are wheelchair users, and everyone plays sitting down, as individuals or in teams of two or three. All matches are mixed sex.
Game equipment consists of small leather balls – 6 blue for one team and 6 red for the other, and 1 white for the jack – the aim being to get your balls nearest to the jack. The balls can be moved with the hands, feet, or with an assistive device such as a ramp. An assistant can move the ramp, place the ball on it and so on, but the player aims and decides on the strength of the shot.
Throwing the ball doesn’t take a lot of strength. The ability to think strategically, along with honing your skills is far more important. My tendency to have spasms in my wrists meant that the occasional ball ended up on the next door court. Still, I improved with my knowledge of the game and how to play it!
The principle is pretty simple – whoever gets their ball nearest to the jack wins – but inevitably it’s a bit more complicated than that. For instance, there are rules governing which side gets to throw next, players have to sit in marked boxes, and so on. You’ll soon pick them up though.
In friendly and local league games everyone plays together. National and international competitions are held in 4 categories, according to the player’s level of disability.
Get involved yourself
Boccia is a great sport. It’s very easy to pick up the basic rules and get playing, and it’s accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities. Its emphasis on skill and strategy (rather than physical strength), the rule that everyone plays sitting down, and the ability to use ramps means even people with severe disabilities can play as equals.
In the UK, Boccia is overseen by Boccia England. Why not get in touch with them to locate your nearest club, and go along to try it out? I’m sure you’ll get a warm welcome and have a great time!
Look out for Boccia in the Paralympic TV coverage. It’s on from the 2nd to the 8th of September. British players to look out for include David Smith (currently ranked 2nd in the world in his category), Dan Bentley, and Scott McCowan. You can find out even more by visiting the Paralympic Games 2012 website’s Boccia section.
See you on the court?
By Margo Milne
Find out more about Margo by visiting her blog, Funky Mango’s Musings.