This morning marked the conclusion of my week training the Kabul women’s team. I’d been looking forward to seeing how much the team had progressed since my first visit last year – it was only formed a month or so before I arrived in May 2012, so I knew a year of experience would do wonders for the players’ skill level and confidence. I was not disappointed. They team is still in the relative beginning stages of its development, but it’s a night and day difference for most of the players I met last year.

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Hazima (left) and Simin are new players since last year. Hazima has picked up the “pay attention when you hear the whistle” lesson. Simin, not so much… [Photo by Michael Glowacki]

As much as they’ve grown in basketball terms, the female Kabul players have equally amped up their personalities and entertainment value. Whether it’s calling me “sir” instead of Jess (talk about making a guy feel old!), chanting each others’ names for encouragement during layup drills, or yelling the omnipresent “you won’t make it!!” before each player’s turn in our HORSE competition, they had me laughing the entire week.

Hands down the most comical development since last year, however, was an English phrase that each player has learned and uses liberally during drills and games – even players that speak no English otherwise. In their high-pitched, girlish voices (most of the players are in their early 20s, but look even younger than that), every player, upon losing the ball out of bounds, being called for a foul, or experiencing any other minor basketball frustration, will pipe up with, “Oh, shit!” The first time I heard someone say it, I assumed it was a Persian phrase that just sounded like “Oh, shit,” but realized after I kept hearing it that, yes, these demure young ladies in their long sleeves, pants and head scarves, were cursing like sailors – in English, no less – during basketball practice. I know I’m probably not setting the right example as a coach by not telling them to watch their language, but it’s just way too funny for me to put a stop to it. Sorry, mom.

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“Oh, shit!” [Photo by Michael Glowacki]

I don’t know if it’s increased confidence in their skills or evolving social norms, but the Kabul women requested on the first day of training that half the screens that keep people outside the court from watching them play be removed (the screens on the street-facing side of the court remain up for now). When I asked what prompted the decision, they told me they need to get used to playing in front of people so they don’t get nervous during competitions. It may seem small, but that was a huge step toward letting the rest of the world see what a remarkable thing they’re doing in a country where female disability sports couldn’t even have been considered a few short years ago.

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Nilofar throws a picture-perfect baseball pass in front of the newly opened court fence [Photo by Michael Glowacki]

A year ago, Alberto and I decided staging a “tournament” between the Kabul and Mazar teams (the only two women’s teams in the country so far) would be premature since the Kabul team was so far inferior to their Mazar counterparts in both skill and experience. In just one year, though, the Kabul women have caught up to the point that I wouldn’t know who to bet on between the two teams.

The first ever women’s wheelchair tournament in Afghanistan will take place tomorrow, with two three-on-three teams from Kabul and two from Mazar. It’s going to be a great moment for the players and for the sport, and I can’t wait for spectators to watch these amazing women play for the first time.