Our goal is to become one of the top 4 countries in Asia - Wheelchair basketball coach Captain Louis George Meprath
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Captain Louis George Meprath has been associated with basketball for over 3 decades. From being a player, referee and a coach he has always been on the court grooming the future generations. The former captain of the Navy team now wants the Indian team to be the top side at the Asian level and also train more players in wheelchair basketball at the grassroot level.
In this exclusive interview with SPOGO, Captain Louis George Meprath, coach of the Maharashtra women’s wheelchair Basketball team shares his views on how he became a part of wheelchair basketball, change in coaching techniques, the challenges faced by the players and his future goals.
Q1) How has the coaching style and techniques changed in the sport over the years?
Men’s wheelchair basketball has featured at every Paralympic Games since 1960. Women’s competition was introduced in 1968. The sport is governed by the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF). The game has become faster now with better quality wheelchairs and stronger players. The coaching concepts used in running Basketball are to a great extent applicable in Wheelchair Basketball viz. man-to-man defense, pick-and-roll etc.
Since the game has become faster, it is all the more important for the players to control their wheelchairs, so that their wheelchairs do not clash with other players’ wheelchairs. Coaches also have to keep in mind the classification of each player, in order to keep the total classification points less than 14 for the 5 players on the field.
Q2) What made you enroll yourself as a member of the Wheelchair Basketball Association?
After retiring from the Indian Navy in 2013, I coached children for three years. In 2016, my good friend Mr. Abraham Poulose (SBI) introduced me to Wheelchair Basketball. We formed the Maharashtra Women’s Wheelchair team in 2017. The game was very interesting, even more interesting than running Basketball. That is how I got interested in Wheelchair Basketball. After that, there was no looking back.
Q3) As coach of the Maharashtra Women’s wheelchair team, what are some of the challenges you have faced while coaching the players?
The challenges were many. Some of these were:-
No proper Basketball Court to practice at Mumbai. We conducted practice sessions at Borivali Don Bosco School, Borivali YMCA and at the All India Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Haji Ali. Ultimately, in April 2018, we were fortunate to get the indoor Wooden Basketball Court at the University at Kalina for use by our team on Saturdays and Sundays.
No proper Sports Wheelchairs. Here also we were lucky to get 10 Sports Wheelchairs sponsored by NINA Foundation (Dr. Ketna Mehta). Thereafter, we got many more Sports Wheelchairs sponsored by well-wishers and friends. Proper wheelchair accessible washrooms were not there till we got the Mumbai University facilities in April 2018.
Coming to the Basketball Court by Ola / Uber (along with the wheelchairs) was tough financially. Players didn’t have the financial resources for this. Once again, friends and well-wishers chipped in. Corporates like Cognizant also helped us by providing vehicles for picking up and dropping our players from their residence. In addition, Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited contributed in a big way by giving the Maharashtra Wheelchair Basketball Association a sum of Rs. 25.00 Lakhs from their CSR Funds.
Keeping the players motivated was also a big challenge. However, once the financial problems were taken care of and an indoor court was available, the main problem of keeping the players motivated became easier. Players had a good indoor Court to practice and they had accessible washrooms.
Q4) What were some of the key points in winning the 2018 National Championships?
The Maharashtra Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team was formed in 2017. Thereafter, with minimum practice and non-availability of Sports Wheelchairs, we took part in our first National Championships at Hyderabad in Oct 2017. The team’s performance was not very good.
After the Hyderabad Nationals, the team was motivated to practice more with a view to perform well in the 2018 National Championship at Erode. We closely studied the performance of our opponents - Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. As a result of this, our Team defeated the opponents by big margins on our way to the finals. In the Final match, we dethroned the reigning champions Tamil Nadu (22 - 18) in the finals.
Credit for this goes to all the 12 players who played as a team. Our strategy was to have a strong defense which would bottle up the opponents and not let them enter the Key. We were successful in this defensive strategy. In addition, we practiced man-to-man defense to catch the good players from the opponent’s teams. Both these strategies helped us to win the Championship at Erode. In 2019, we retained the title at Mohali, once again beating Tamil Nadu in the final match.
Q5) How has the experience at the 2019 Asia Oceania Championships helped the team?
The 2019 Asia Oceania Zone championships were the qualifying tournament for the Tokyo Paralympics. Our team played well with teams from Afghanistan, Cambodia, Thailand, Iran etc. Although we did not qualify for the Paralympics, it was a good learning experience. Our players played with some of the best players in Asia and got a feel of how tough one needs to be in Wheelchair Basketball. The defensive and offensive strategies required for performing well were understood by our players.
Q6) What are your goals in the coming years and how do you intend to achieve them?
The main goal is that the Indian team should perform well at the Asian level. In the next 5 to 6 years, we must be amongst the top 4 countries in Asia. The next goal is that India should play in the Paralympics, say, by the 2032 Olympics at Brisbane.
As far as the Maharashtra Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team is concerned, the main goal is to train more players at the grassroots level, so that we have at least 150 to 200 women players in all the 36 districts of Maharashtra actively playing Wheelchair Basketball. This will ensure that the competition amongst players will increase and as a result better performance would be shown by our players.