Bren­dan Dowler: Bas­ket­ball coach.

Bren­dan Dowler, 50, wheel­chair bas­ket­ball coach Wol­lon­gong Roller Hawks; Par­a­lympic Games gold and sil­ver medal­list

The Saturday Paper - - Contents - Tim Rushby-Smith

I hadn’t re­ally con­sid­ered go­ing into coach­ing when I was play­ing. I bumped into one of my old coaches just this year, and she was sur­prised to see me coach­ing. Maybe that’s a re­flec­tion that I wasn’t the eas­i­est player to coach.

You want to play for­ever, but there comes a point where the body’s not up to it any­more. I wanted to pick the right time to move on, and hav­ing won the gold medal in Bei­jing, it seemed like a good time to re­tire. I was 40, and there were young blokes com­ing through in my po­si­tion, so I thought the team was in a good place.

Af­ter I fin­ished play­ing, the coach at West­ern Syd­ney asked if I wanted to come along and do a bit of as­sis­tant coach­ing, so I did. I started to re­alise just how much time and ef­fort other peo­ple had put in to help me achieve what I achieved. Here was an op­por­tu­nity to give some­thing back and play that role for other play­ers, so I had a bit of an al­tru­is­tic shift, pro­vid­ing a mean­ing be­hind coach­ing, rather than just turn­ing up be­cause some­one had asked me to do it.

In dis­abil­ity sport, there’s not the same money or pro­file, so most peo­ple who are play­ing, coach­ing, ref­er­ee­ing or ad­min­is­trat­ing are vol­un­teers. Any money gen­er­ated usu­ally goes on ex­penses.

In wheel­chair bas­ket­ball the roles are de­fined by dis­abil­ity clas­si­fi­ca­tion. It’s still bas­ket­ball. Most of the rules and con­cepts are very sim­i­lar, but some of the move­ment and po­si­tion­ing is more tech­ni­cal in the wheel­chair game, be­cause if you get picked out, it’s very hard to get back in. All of our stats are the same – points in the paint, shoot­ing per­cent­ages, as­sists, steals, turnovers, re­bounds.

The prin­ci­ples that I em­pha­sise are com­mu­ni­ca­tion, court vi­sion and space. Some­times bas­ket­ball can be like un­der-7s soc­cer, with ev­ery­one go­ing up and down the mid­dle of the court in a crowd, but you need space. There’s a whole court to use. White paint fever takes over some­times but … you’re all out there to­gether.

I’m not the kind of coach who gives re­ally spe­cific, de­tailed in­struc­tions. I’m more about the prin­ci­ples and let­ting peo­ple work it out for them­selves, be­cause ev­ery­one’s dif­fer­ent. But as a team we have to have an un­der­stand­ing about how we’re go­ing to play and what we’re go­ing to be do­ing.

You play as you train. If you’re muck­ing around at train­ing, then don’t ex­pect to play any bet­ter than that. You need to have that in­ten­sity at train­ing, be­cause then the game is easy. If you’re striv­ing for consistent ex­cel­lence in train­ing, then that will come through in the games.

I know peo­ple have got busy lives and lots of dis­trac­tions, and you want to have a bit of fun; there’s a time and a place for that, but ul­ti­mately we’re play­ing at the high­est level we can play it in Aus­tralia – the na­tional league – and ev­ery­one’s giv­ing up their time.

I’m giv­ing up my time, and I do ex­pect there to be a cer­tain level of com­mit­ment to be the best we can be ev­ery time.

At the begin­ning of each sea­son I’ll say, “Your fit­ness level and your bas­ket­ball skills are up to you in­di­vid­u­ally.

You need to be as fast as you can be and as fit as you can be, so you can last the game. You need to be able to pass and shoot.” My ex­pec­ta­tion at this level is that you’ve looked af­ter your own “one per­centers” as an in­di­vid­ual, so that the “one per­centers” I’ll talk about will be in re­la­tion to the team. When we come to­gether a cou­ple of times a week we need to be work­ing on our team co­he­sive­ness, ca­ma­raderie and in­ter­ac­tion.

Peo­ple of­ten say de­fend­ing a ti­tle is harder than win­ning one, and you cer­tainly be­come the hunted. Teams smile a lit­tle bit more when they beat the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons. I don’t mind los­ing one or two games, just to give us a re­al­ity check, a re­minder that no one’s go­ing to hand the ti­tle to you. You’ve got to take it.

I don’t have any great as­pi­ra­tions as a coach at the mo­ment. I have a young fam­ily and a full-time job, but I’ve been happy to coach the lo­cal Roller Hawks team for the past cou­ple of years. I’ve been in­vited to go to the Aus­tralian camps as a guest coach, and I like be­ing in­volved at that level with­out too much com­mit­ment, es­pe­cially if I can con­trib­ute to help the play­ers that are com­ing

• through, just as oth­ers did for me.

TIM RUSHBYSMITH is a free­lance jour­nal­ist based on the South Coast of NSW, and au­thor of Look­ing Up and Be­yond the Break.

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