Scott and Jamie McCowan are brothers who’ve both been selected to represent the UK at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. They’ll be competing for gold in the Boccia championship, which starts on the 7th of September.
The brothers play in the BC3 Boccia classification, and use an assistive ramp to propel each ball onto the court. We spoke to Scott and Jamie about their journey to Rio.
When did your journey to Rio begin?
Scott: “I’ve been competing now for 10 years almost. I’ve always been a BC3 whereas Jamie was a thrower for a long time, he’s recently transitioned to the BC3 class”
Jamie: “I’ve been playing for 10 years but i’ve been using the ramp for a year and a half.”
You’ve been using your ramp for a year and a half and you’ve already qualified for Team GB?
Jamie: “It’s been a quick change you could say! It’s been a quick turnaround for me but it’s been a great learning experience also.”
“I always thought ‘i’ll not be able to do it’. I was a thrower at the time and I couldn’t throw that far. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to reach the back of the court, I didn’t know anything about ramps.”
How did you first get involved with Boccia?
Scott: “I went to a multi-sports event for disabled people in my local area trying a number of sports. The boccia coach was there at the time. I always thought ‘i’ll not be able to do it’. I was a thrower at the time and I couldn’t throw that far. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to reach the back of the court, I didn’t know anything about ramps. The coach asked for me at a few events, I eventually gave in and gave it a try, I got hooked from there.”
Jamie: “I wasn’t familiar with the sport of Boccia. I tried it thinking this could be fun, we could enjoy it.”
Scott: “We joined the Scotland squad and never looked back.”
Jamie McCowan carries the Olympic torch in 2012
Scott competed in 2012 at the Paralympic games in London, so we asked how he expects Rio to be different.
S: “It’ll obviously be different from London, being a home games is such a special experience. One big difference will be the change in the crowd support, in London almost everybody was supporting team GB whereas this time it’ll be mostly brazilian supporters you would think. It’s a different continent, a different part of the world, a different culture, but at the same time it’s still a Paralympic games.”
“It’s just about trying to keep it in perspective, it’s just another event, but it’s certainly going to be different to my experience in London.”
Rio will be Jamie’s Paralympic debut, so we asked what advice he’d gotten from his brother.
J: “The thing I want to remember is that I don’t think it’s good to go in thinking you know what to expect. But when you step out onto the court, nothing’s changed, it’s the same game once you’re out there.”
S: “The biggest thing, enjoy it first of all. You get shocked by it in the first few days, try and get all the wonder and excitement out of the way and get into the competition mode, you’ve got to try to knuckle down and keep it in perspective – you’re there to do a job.”
“I don’t think anything can really prepare you until you get out there and experience it.”
“we know we’re good enough to beat all the teams. It’s just about doing it on the day.”
Who are you not looking forward to coming up against?
S: “Our biggest rivals are going to be Korea. They’re the world number one pair. They are the only team we haven’t beaten in competition yet, every other team we have beaten at some point.”
“We know that’s probably going to be the greatest test, but the way we’ve been training this year we know we’re good enough to beat all the teams. It’s just about doing it on the day.”
J: “The way we’ve played recently we know we can achieve what we want, that’s the most important thing. I think if you have that confidence and belief in what you’re doing for every single game then you can win. It’s exciting that we’re at that stage and putting the finishing touches on. We just want to get out there and perform to the best of our ability now.”
The brothers say their rivalry helps “keep the competitive juices flowing”
S: “I think obviously [Jamie]’s important to me for the pairs event, but once it gets into the singles…”
J: “It’s every man for himself!”
“It’s about not letting your disability set your limits”
Something that’s been making headlines ahead of Rio is Channel 4’s Superhumans campaign – what do you think of it?
J: “I think it’s fantastic, we’ve seen it lots and I just think what they’re doing spreading the word is inspiring. After London the Paralympics has taken off even further and the fact that they’re still spreading that positive message has meant no momentum got lost.”
S: “The great thing about it is that they’ve not focused only on sport, which is important because it’s not just about sport its so much more than that actually. It’s not just about ‘can you do sport?’, it’s from a musical perspective, are you good at your job, do you excel in so many different aspects of life? For us it’s great that they’re spreading a positive message, it doesn’t mean people have to get involved in sport, there’s so many aspects of life you can say, ‘Yes you can’ do what you want. You don’t have to have it decided for you because you have a disability that means you’re not suited to something that you’re passionate about.”
J: “Though we’re very sports driven and that’s what our lives revolve around, It’s about not letting your disability set your limits.”
“I don’t think there’s a better feeling. My first tournament win was 8 and a half years ago and now still feels the same.”
What motivates you to compete at this elite level?
J: “To me it’s the feeling of winning. With sport it’s a lot of hard work, a lot of sacrifices have been made but when you go to a tournament and you’ve stuck to your plan, you’ve won your tournament or won medals I don’t think there’s a better feeling. My first tournament win was 8 and a half years ago and now still feels the same.”
S: “What drives us to keep getting better is the inspiration to be better than the next guy, we’re competitive animals and that’s why we’re involved in the sport. If you don’t do well you get that motivation to try and do well the next time.”
What would be your advice to a player looking to make into Team GB for Tokyo 2020?
J: “One of the key things is don’t ever feel that there’s nothing to learn. You’ve really got to put the hours in if it’s something you want to do. You make those sacrifices and you can achieve whatever you want to in sport.”
S: “The hard work and dedication is the important bit. You have to make it your soul focus in terms of your training. I would say the biggest thing is to look to the person that’s competing above you, look at what they do and say to yourself, well if they’re doing better than me and they’re doing this maybe I could try it and you do that at every level.”
What about someone wanting to get involved with Boccia for the first time, what advice would you give them?
J: “People starting the game don’t know where to go and where to get the best ramps, so it’s great for organisations like yourselves to provide them, it’s crucial.”
S: “If you don’t have an effective ramp you’re just not going to be able to compete with some of the top guys.”
J: “Maybe the way you could perform with a better ramp isn’t the way you are performing with your current ramp. Even the quality of our ramps in recent years have changed dramatically. We’ve put a lot of work into that, if you‘ve got people outside of the squad doing that and potential athletes, trying to make adjustments and changes [to their ramps] it’s going to make it even more competitive.”
Scott McCowan and the GB squad at the London 2012 victory parade
So you’re feeling ready for Rio?
S: “We’ve done all the training that we need to do, were definitely ready to go out and do it so it’s just about staying ready at this point.”
We wish Jamie, Scott and the whole of the GB squad the best of luck going for gold at Rio. We’ll be sharing the results here on Boccia News as soon as they come in.
If you’re looking to get involved with Boccia as a beginner, or to improve your skills like Scott and Jamie, assistive ramps to suit every ability designed and made in house by DEMAND Design & Manufacture for Disability are available here.