Air3's Lucy caught up with Stirling's Scott McCowan to find out about the little known sport of Boccia, one of the few Paralympic sports without an Olympic counterpart, and his hopes for his upcoming competitions and Paralympic qualification.
Air3: Explain to us what your sport involves.
Scott: Essentially Boccia is a target ball sport similar to French Boules. It has a similar scoring system to Boules, the aim is to get your ball closer to the Jack than your opponent. The difference from Boules being that the sport is played indoors on a wooden floor. The balls are also much smaller and lighter, made from leather on the outside and beans, similar to the ones found in bean bags, for the filling.
Air3: How long have you been a player and what first attracted you to the sport?
Scott: I have been playing for four years, I first started playing the sport in secondary school. I went to a local sports event, Ayrshire special games and after trying a number of different sports I met the Scotland coach who encouraged me to go to one of the Boccia training events to try it out. My family have been really encouraging and the support is huge, without them I wouldn’t be able to travel to the events, my dad is also my assistant to help operate my ramp with which I roll the balls down, without this I wouldn’t be able to compete.
Air3: What are the training sessions like?
Scott: I currently train 10-16 hours a week depending on whether I have a training camp during the weekend. When I have a Great British training weekend in Sheffield or Bath it can mean I’m training up to 20-25 hours. At times it can be very intensive, I complete most training on my own without coaches. They set out the training programmes, which involves practice for individual matches or specific drills, according to my competition schedule.
Air3: Have you had to adapt your lifestyle because of the demands of the sport?
Scott: There are big sacrifices when you start to play at an international level. The training commitments mean that I’m not readily available to do what I want, when I want. It’s really important that I don’t stay out till all hours of the morning if I have a training session the next day as I need to stay focused during training. I also need to be careful of what I’m eating and drinking to ensure I stay fit and healthy. I’ve taken a year out of my studies to allow me to focus on Boccia-balancing my degree was getting too hard, the university have been really supportive in allowing me to do this.
Air3: What is the Boccia competition schedule like and what are you looking to participate in during the coming year?
Scott: Boccia competitions run on a 4 year cycle, like any other Olympic sport, it starts the year after the Paralympics with the Regional Championships these include the European, Pan-American and Asian games. The next year comes the world championships, after this is the 3rd year, which we are currently in, this is when the World Cup is hosted, this year was held in Belfast in August and I was enough lucky to compete in and London 2012 next year is the goal.
The competitions I have coming up are, the British Championships which are this weekend in Cardiff. It’s the biggest competition in Britain, It’s a title I haven’t been fortunate enough to win it yet so that is my main goal this weekend. I’ll be using it as a warm-up for the Individual Europeans in Norway which is a week on Thursday. This is the event that allows me to get my player rankings allowing me to qualify for the individual event in the Paralympics. It’s a busy end to the year!
My main aim for these events is to get to London but, every event is important in themselves, I aim to do well in every tournament. To qualify for the Paralympics requires different criteria for each of the events. The pairs event competitors are chosen by the coaching staff of the team. The individual event in London requires me to be ranked at least in the top 25 in the world, I’m currently top 29 which is really close which is why its important for me to do as well as I can in Norway.
Air3: That’s pretty tough! Should you qualify for the Paralympics how would that affect your current training?
Scott: Obviously it would get a lot more intensive, it would mean more competitions and weekend training camps. At the end of the year and towards January it’ll really take off, the final decisions for qualification gets made in May but from January training will pick up and be hectic for anyone in the mix to be picked, Should I get picked I’ll be doing the upper range of my training hours.
Air3: Apart from you who else competing for Great Britain should Air3 keep their eye on?
Scott: In the Team GB set up we have some of the top players in the world. There are several different categories for competitors in Boccia, each one is related to the type or severity of the player’s condition. Players in the category BC1 are players with Cerebral palsy who can use their hands or feet to propel the ball, David Smith is in this category. He is currently one of the top 5 players in the world and is a Paralympics champion from Beijing. BC2 players also have Cerebral Palsy and are able to use their hands to consistently propel the ball into play, they have a greater functional ability than a BC1 athlete. Nigel Murray competes in this category and is one of our most experienced players having been in the game for 15-20 years, he won a silver medal in Belfast this August. BC3 athletes have Cerebral Palsy or another disability with locomotor dysfuntion in all four limbs and so are unable to throw or kick the ball into play, these players are allowed to use an assistive device such as a ramp and an assistant to support them. This is my category and in the past we haven’t been that successful but with the current set-up we’re hopeful that will change. With my current rankings and Jacob Thomas from Wales, 21 in the rankings, we will hopefully change that. Brothers Steven and Peter McGuire are World Championship Silver Medalists and in the BC4 category this is athletes that do not have Cerebral Palsy but another disability with locomotor dysfuntion in all four limbs.
Air3: How can people get involved?
Scott: If you’re in Scotland and wanting to participate you can go onto the Scottish disability website and contact one of our coaches who can point you in the direction of a regional squad or local club.
If you’re looking to get involved now, it is a good time to as we are currently looking for many new talents, the squad is currently looking thinner than some of the other home nations and we want to change that.
To keep up to date on what Scott is up to you can follow him on Twitter: '@smccowan' and for more information on Boccia and how to join the sport go to: