Scott McCowan: Boccia improves my quality of life

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Boccia player Scott McCowan knows that the sport has made a massive difference to his life.

Paralympian Scott McCowan knows if it wasn't for boccia, he would not be competing in elite-level sport.

The 23-year-old represented Great Britain at the London Paralympics and won pairs silver at the 2014 World Championship in China, while younger brother Jamie is also on the GB squad.

Both Scott and Jamie have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy - a muscle-wasting disease - and Scott, who has been a wheelchair user since he was nine, started the sport as a teenager after being invited to a local multi-sport session and realised he had a talent for the game, despite some initial reluctance.

Boccia, which made its Paralympic Games debut in 1984, is similar to boules or petanque and played either individually or in teams or pairs with the aim of the game to get the ball closest to the jack.

The balls are made of leather and filled with plastic granules so they are easy to grip, while the playing area is roughly the size of a badminton court.

Scott McCowan facts
Born: 16/07/91
Studied Sports Science and Psychology at Stirling University
Made Paralympic debut in London reaching the group stages in the BC3 pairs and the last 16 in the BC3 individual
Won European pairs bronze in 2013 and World pairs silver in 2014
Follows Celtic and Manchester United

"Some people come and see balls being rolled in a hall and they think the sport looks easy," explains Scott. "But when they try it out they soon realise it's not, and in all of the categories, but especially my BC3 category, the accuracy is really high-end and it can make for very tense games."

Scott's condition means if he doesn't use his muscles they get weaker. Playing sport slows down the process and the more he uses the muscles, the more he can maintain his range of movement.

"When I started off, it was about enjoyment but now it is about my condition," he says. "Playing the sport keeps me active and fit which is crucial for my quality of life.

Scott McCowan competed at London 2012
Scott McCowan competed at London 2012

"Often, people with severe disabilities aren't provided with a chance to do sport or exercise because there is a view that they wouldn't be able to do it, but it is so important."

As he is unable to throw the ball himself, Scott is able to use a ramp assistant to help him deliver the ball and it is his dad Gary who fulfils the role during competition, following Scott's commands and moving the ramp to the correct place and also putting on and taking off the ramp extension which allows the ball to roll faster.

"He is almost like a robot because he is not able to communicate with me and he also sits with his back to the court and is not allowed to watch the match so he follows my commands and performs the actions," says Scott.

"But the ramp assistant also plays a vital role off-court because they can provide advice on shots because they have been there and it is a bit like a golf caddy.

"If you don't have a good ramp assistant and a good relationship you can't be a good player in the BC3 category.

"I suppose having my dad as my ramp assistant is easier because he knows me and, because I am doing it for so long, he knows what I am going to say almost before I say it.

"But as it is my dad you get the other side because he wants what is best for me, so often there will be fall-outs over shot choices.

"He also hates losing almost as much as I do, so whenever we get beaten there is a bit of a discussion about that - but that is good because we are not scared to hold back in what we think and that is positive."

Boccia facts
Boccia is derived from the ancient Italian game 'bocce' and was adapted for disabled athletes in Sweden in the 1970s.
There are four categories - BC1 players can kick or throw the ball, BC2 and BC4 players throw the ball while BC3 players use a ramp to deliver the ball
A boccia ball weighs between 263 and 287g and has a circumference of 262-278mm
Participants have impairments in all four limbs
Great Britain have won boccia medals in four of the last five summer Games

While boccia may lack the rough and tumble of other Paralympic sports like wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball, Scott, who is working towards the 2016 Games in Rio, knows it still has much to offer the Paralympic movement.

"All facets of disability need to be recognised in the sporting world and for many people with severe disabilities, boccia is the only sport they can play at elite level. Otherwise they won't get recognised and that's why it is so important to the Paralympics," he says.

"Since London 2012, where we had lots of people coming to watch, participation is higher and there is more awareness about the sport. We also have a new international governing body who are passionate about making it better and getting more people playing.

"I'd just encourage everyone to have a go - even if you think it isn't for you, because I thought that at the start and now look at what I have done."