Martin Austin, chair of the Derby Wheelblazers reveals the impact of ‘the London 2012 effect’ on wheelchair basketball.
Running a relatively small and relatively new wheelchair basketball club has its challenges, first and foremost being our ability to engage and retain new players of all ages and abilities. So from the outset, we were looking at how we might capitalise on the increased interest in disability sport generated by the Paralympics.
Opportunity to lay the foundations
Our journey to reap the rewards that the Paralympics might offer started some time ago, thanks to the superb work done in the area to generate a buzz for the Olympics. The approach in Derby was particularly well coordinated by, amongst others the Local Council, our Paralympic Legacy Coordinator and the sports community at large, which meant we were able to be present at a range of community based events and activities. This combined with funding from the Big Lottery Fund to work with Children and Young People meant that long before even a torch made its way into the Olympic stadium, we were well on the road to creating a legacy for our sport.
Over the summer we delivered countless community based sessions in the hope that we might find just one or two new players. These sessions are always hugely popular but a constant frustration is that they are often seen as a fun novelty and rarely convert players, so despite the deluge of outreach we still saw no real increase in numbers.
Fruits of our labour
This month however saw the culmination of all of that work as our new season started. All of those people that had shown interest over the summer and added us on facebook or followed us on twitter and became enthralled by the sport in London. This new found following was carried over
for our first competitive match of the season when, for the first time, we were at capacity. Add to this the numbers of people that had discovered us independently via the online resource Parasport and we were looking at a full hall.
The moment the match ended and the transition to juniors training happened, our first team stood back and watched with awe as EVERY SINGLE CHAIR we had was filled with fresh, eager and inspired players. Without the Paralympics and all of the associated work over the last year this would never have happened.
And so now the work really begins – to sustain this level of interest there’s work that needs doing in terms of restructuring the club, the coaching staff, the equipment availability. But this is what legacy means for us – the chance to evolve, and for that we thank all the supporters and those involved.
Stay up to date with the Wheelblazers progress on Facebook and Twitter.