Sorry for the delay in getting a new post up – the internet in Mazar-e-Sharif is a lot less reliable than in Kabul, and I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to post this evolving entry for a day and a half.

I’ve now had three practices each with the Mazar men’s and women’s teams, and things are off to a great start. The players have obviously been working on some of the skills I taught them in my visit last year, while having reverted to their more “Afghstketball” style in other elements of the game (namely shooting). Since I only had three days with them last year, this isn’t too surprising, and I’ve been impressed with how quickly they’re picking up and implementing proper technique this week. 

I’ve recruited four player/coaches on the Mazar men’s side, whom I’ve been meeting with after practices to discuss technical aspects of the game like functional classification for players and the finer points of wheelchair basketball rules. They’re all very bright and I think will really help to move things forward by serving as leaders teaching existing and new players in the community once I’m gone. Developing this kind of local leadership is going to be critical to making a league and national program sustainable.

During a lengthy post-practice rules discussion today, I discovered that the head coach of the men’s and women’s teams – an older man named Nazuk Mir who helped start the first wheelchair basketball team in Mazar over eight years ago – has  had absolutely no experience with basketball of any kind. His sole coaching qualification was that he had watched quite a bit of soccer. The players’ lack of any awareness of rules or technique makes a lot more sense now. They are all very happy to be learning the right way to play, though, and even asked to practice on Friday, normally a day dedicated to worship in the Muslim faith.  

Working with the women’s team has been a lot of fun as well. They’re starting to grasp the core components of the game, and several are showing a lot of competitive fire (aka attitude!). This can be funny to observe because, even though the women are all fairly young – 18 to 22 or so – they have no problem voicing their opinions, even if it means arguing with me or getting on the case of one of their teammates. I’m making an effort to get them to be supportive of their teammates, but in the end it’s good to see that they’re competitive and want to succeed. I should probably just back off and let them fight it out.

As I saw in my return visit to Maimana last year, a few of the players on both sides are starting to stand out as natural athletes who are putting the mental and physical pieces together. This is exciting to watch and gives me a lot of hope for the eventual possibility of a competitive Afghan national team. I and the ICRC will convening a meeting of international and local stakeholder organizations – some sports focused, some disability focused, some governmental – in June to discuss how to take wheelchair basketball (and disability sports in general) to the next level of organization and competitiveness in Afghanistan, so hopefully these players will have an official national team tryout to work toward in the not-too-distant future.

Pictures:

  1. Three of the four new player/coaches: Tawab, Khalid and Reiza. They were all adopting the standard Afghan mean mug pose until Alberto threw a basketball at Khalid right as I snapped the picture. Perfect timing.
  2. Giving Nasrullah a thumbs up on his demonstration of shooting form.
  3. Nazir, on the left, recently got engaged to one of the players on the women’s team, Hanifa. Hanifa is a real pistol. Nazir has his work cut out for him.
  4. The women’s team learning to throw baseball passes (or “handball passes” since they’ve never heard of baseball).
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