Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Working for Paralympics: Battling the trade of training with different coaches

Controversy, injury and the competition of medals are not the only things that can happen to elite athletes and their sometimes fragile bodies. Some athletes choose to train in other countries as part of their Pursuit of Excellence (POV) coaching team programme.

Kempftenring High School

The Polish Republic may be a country with a wealth of footballing talent, but one of their best-known footballers, star goalkeeper Przemyslaw Niemiec, has to train with a different team when the national team is not on tour.

It doesn’t matter. Niemiec is on the Polish national team and has won the European Championship in two of the last three seasons.

“It’s a really good programme. Every day at this training camp I get to train with a different goalie because we have to focus on the only goal in our minds and that is winning European championship”, Niemiec told us in interview at the 2017 Paralympic Games in Rio.

Niemiec was with the Polish national team throughout the 2015-2016 season but showed up injured at Euro 2016 and missed the next year’s tournament.

However, Niemiec has still been able to excel on the international stage. This summer he stood firm with the Polish team and is currently nominated for the Golden Glove as the best goalkeeper at the World Cup.

For Niemiec, staying fit with different training partners is always important to stay competitive at the top level and going abroad to train in different disciplines such as scrum, is vital to achieving that.

Approaching the end of his career, Niemiec says he remains relatively healthy. His handball stick has long been replaced and he remains the goal keeper for the Polish side in the men’s wheelchair basketball team.

“From a young age I’ve tried to play the sport. I learned quickly, I am very organised and focused in what I’m doing. After the World cup, I don’t think many players know I’m still in the European championship -it’s really amazing” he said, with the knowledge of someone who has won a multitude of individual medals.


McAffeld AC, one of the best known sports trainers in the world, has long been a training guide to many of the world’s top athletes.

McAffeld has had a long association with the cycling team-T4 Rara Cycle as well as professional golfer Darren Clarke, who captained Ireland at the Rio Paralympics this year.

Clarke left Stoke Mandeville for Dubai and Greece with his family in order to work with McAffeld when he was in training camp for his country.

Clarke told us that we can expect to see McAffeld “come into camp with us very early and then leave with us on the final day of the competition”, adding that the Irish coaching team “never give in to chance to a bad or lacklustre session”.

Some athletes are so confident in their skills that they leave their countries to continue their training and competition of medals elsewhere.

Carl McKie and Joao Nascimento Sibiga joined the US base in Portugal for the Rio 2016 Paralympics and were never to return home. The duo travelled around the world in 2016-2017 training, competing and breaking numerous records.

“The thing that set me apart was my reaction time – I had a very high reaction time at the time” explained McKie, who won bronze and world records in swimming.

“In the Paralympics we see hundreds of athletes compete and I used to tell myself to keep getting faster because that is going to be the difference between being the third or fourth guy on the podium or not”.

Antonia Almeida-Casal is a health and well-being coach who worked with Paralympic athletes at the London 2012 Paralympics. She told us: “When you are an athlete competing on the international circuit, that world looks quite different to life of everyday society.

“The athletes train in a different way and at different places. They understand and deserve this flexibility.”

Even more seriously, it takes a lot to visit another country and train within it. It is of paramount importance that your support network is there to help you when you need it.

“If you can, get your coach to train in your country with you”, advises Almeida-Casal. “That is what helps mentally to bring you back again and again.

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