It’s been a season that has seen the Celtic Shock U19 squad set their alarms for the unfamiliar time of 6am in order to make the lengthy trek to Nottingham and back to compete in the Lord Taverners U19 League a total of 3 times from November through to March. As a team that consists of both juniors from the Swindon Shock squad and the Cardiff Celts squad, a challenge was already posed for the hybrid team, who showed up on the day and went about playing with no prior training together. As wheelchair basketball is a sport that commands a great deal of teamwork, a huge challenge was put in front of the lads from England and Wales. This challenge seemed all the more daunting when considering the opposition had known each other since the first time they got in their chairs. For the less experienced players in the squad the immense pressure of playing in the fantastic facilities of the Nottingham Wildcats Arena and playing up against talent that had represented Great Britain at various age groups proved a worthy battle to contend with.
Whilst initially, tactics were kept simple in order to work on a team cohesion, results were unfortunately not falling for the Celtic Shock team; baskets were made and passing was clear, but communication for a team that had just learnt each other’s names proved the Achilles heel of Celtic Shock. It wasn’t until the final fixture on the first meet against Rhinos that the team realised a victory was very much in their hands. With coaching staff and players alike seething with passion to grab their first win, war was waged against a very surprised and rattled Rhinos squad. Throughout the game myself and Ben did not take to our seats, and not once did members of our team on the sideline keep quiet in order to motivate the boys on the court to give it their all. Pressing the team throughout the whole game proved useful, but unfortunately simple shots were not made that cost Celtic Shock a very narrow loss. But this was not in vain, for a team that had just lost, it was very clear that this team was starting to mature and already make preparations for the next round of fixtures. As coaches this was very rewarding to witness.
Once again, and a few months down line, with a few players missing on this occasion, Celtic Shock made the journey north again, for what everyone knew was to be an extremely tough day of fixtures, playing against the best clubs arguably in the country, boasting some phenomenal talent to the likes of which the vast majority of Celtic Shock had never played against. As a relatively new coach I was nervous about playing against such competition and it certainly came across when feeding back my information to the boys, results were very poor and morale was low. After a chat to Ben we both realised that at the end of the day, these are just bodies in chairs, no different to any of our players and so we shouldn’t submit ourselves and give the impression of inferiority. It was clear that at the end of the day, and a chat to the boys about certain behaviour from the coaching staff and players alike reaffirmed the fact that we were here to play basketball and not take stick from the big boys there. It was certainly a learning curve that every player needed to take in order to realise where we stood, we were the new boys on the block, but we were not there to be pushed over. And with this thought in mind, we all went back to our homes, pondered on the results and prepared for the next series of fixtures.
Fast forward a few months later, this particular Saturday started no differently to any other, but after arriving at Youth First for our final games in the series, with all the Swindon boys freezing their backsides off in the cold waiting for Jordan to get out of bed, there was a great sense of determination amongst the pack. Certainly I could sense these boys had become tight as a group and were ready to give it their all, knowing these were the final fixtures. This was reaffirmed when I saw a war ready Harri Jenkins pull up in the car park, equally as pumped to give hell to the equally as difficult opponents as the last round of fixtures. What sticks in my mind on this day was the repeat fixture against Leicester Cobras, of which in the last fixture had completely demolished our squad, causing us to score only two points and leaving the group extremely flat afterwards. Straight away we knew what we were here to do, the boys were not even looking at a Great Britain laden squad warm up because they were not concerned with their opponents assuming this game would be a walk over. They were very wrong. With the biggest SHOCK we had summoned all season, five chairs took to the court and gave the best match of wheelchair basketball I have ever witnessed. We were not playing a second team on that day, GB players were forced to play to their full capacity against a Celtic Shock team that drained every shot and stole the ball at every given opportunity. As it was we were winning at half time, and for the first time all season, every single lad on the squad believed they were going to take the win, as a coach it was phenomenal to see everybody so pumped to get the job done. Not only this, but the team cohesion at this point was at its all time highest, for a team that never trained together, it would be frightening to think how much damage these young lads could do if they trained together every single week. With that said the second half carried on much in the same way the first half, with Leicester Cobras in the end narrowing a result that they had to work extremely hard for. Whilst there were other games on that day, I think that game epitomises what both Cardiff Celts and Swindon Shock stand for and that’s going on the court as a team and leaving together as a team.
As a coach I could not be more proud of this squad who have ultimately tested me to my limits both tactically and emotionally, and for the players I hope that one they have made friends for life and two, enjoyed playing the sport that we all commit time towards because it makes up such a large part of our lives now.