What does it take to win a medal in international sport?
Before we get to the answer, let me tell you my story. I manage the Dutch wheelchair basketball teams. Don’t be fooled by the wheelchair element: this is not a sport for the fainthearted. It is a very close relation to wheelchair rugby and you might know what the Americans call that: murder ball. It’s a fast and furious game that, like all sport, requires an enticing combination of skill, physical courage and quick thinking.
There were cheering capacity crowds of 15,000 and huge drama in all the matches. The time, effort and hard work the players had put in really paid off. The end result for us was a bronze medal. It was wonderful to come away with a tangible reward and we’re now even more fired up for next time: we want that gold.
So back to my question: what does it take to win a medal in international sport? I have a very simple view. A major part of it is identity. My experience is in Paralympic sport but this applies across all sport, and indeed across any form of work. It is all about being yourself, understanding your strengths and weaknesses, and working with your team to be the best you can be.
We also have an athlete who lost both his legs in Afghanistan as a result of friendly fire. It is unimaginable for those of us fortunate enough not to have witnessed what he has. But he is mentally very tough and basketball has given him the perfect outlet for his physical strength and sporting prowess. He is very clear that it has helped him rebuild his life.
There are plenty of reasons to learn about disabled sport. At the top of the list sits the inspirational personal stories. I’ve given you just two and I have as many as there are people in the teams.
The key thing is to learn exactly what that potential is. To do that, we need to understand our identity and how far we’re prepared to go to achieve what we can: the true limitations are psychological, not physical.
Toine is the Executive Director at Basketball Experience NL, foundation for wheelchair basketball in the Netherlands. He also managed the women’s and men’s Dutch wheelchair basketball teams. He’s passionate about sports and loves sharing inspirational stories.Follow @toineklerks on Twitter.