Wollongong Roller Hawks coach Brendan Dowler on winning gold and silver at the Paralympic Games. By Tim Rushby-Smith.


Honoured roller: Brendan Dowler, 50, wheelchair basketball coach

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.

This week’s highlights…

• Basketball: NBL – Brisbane Bullets v Melbourne United

Saturday, 1.50pm (AEST), Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre

• Cricket: WBBL – Brisbane Heat v Perth Scorchers

Saturday, 2.50pm (AEDT), North Sydney Oval

• Basketball: WNBL – Melbourne Boomers v Sydney Uni Flames

Saturday, 3pm (AEDT), State Basketball Centre, Wantirna South, Melbourne

• Soccer: W-League – Newcastle Jets v Melbourne City

Sunday, 2.30pm (AEDT), McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle

• A-League – Newcastle Jets v Brisbane Roar

Sunday, 5pm (AEDT), McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle

• Cricket: Australia v India, 2nd Test, day 1

Friday, 10.20am (AWST), Perth Stadium

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on December 8, 2018 as "Honoured roller".

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Tim Rushby-Smith is a freelance journalist based on the South Coast of NSW, and author of Looking Up and Beyond the Break.

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